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NUS Agritech Centre Established to Support Singapore’s Agri Sector

Agriculture technology, or Agri-tech for short, is more crucial than ever in agriculture during this COVID-19 times. It is a growing industry that employs modern technologies to increase production yield, improve food quality, and promote sustainability in the agri-food value chain.

Agriculture and aquaculture companies can sow the seeds of self-sufficiency for our future by investing in technology and R&D. There is now a greater sense of urgency to overcome global resource constraints, mitigate the effects of climate change, and meet the demands of an expanding population and shifting consumer preferences.

The NUS Agritech Centre is one of Singapore Science Park’s latest innovation and incubation facilities, powered by NUS Enterprise. The NUS Agritech Centre, housed in the Cavendish building, is a one-of-a-kind fusion of art and technology – a sandpit for researchers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries to present challenges, experiments, and market-based solutions in agriculture.

The establishment of this centre is consistent with Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal of producing 30% of the population’s nutritional needs locally by 2030. The centre is designed to support start-ups from growth to post-harvest, building capabilities in serving up urban farming food options from lab to table.

Increasingly, we are finding more NUS spin-offs from the Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP) engaged in this area. We will very deliberately pursue agritech and urban farming as a theme across our venture creation programmes.

– NUS Deputy President (Innovation & Enterprise)

The centre is one of the first in NUS to offer such specialised support for agritech start-ups, employing cutting-edge tools and controls to create an optimised infrastructure and environment for urban farming innovation and production.

The nearby NUS Enterprise@Singapore Science Park, another NUS Enteprise incubation facility housing agritech start-ups as well as those centred on food tech, connected devices, environmental and health solutions, provides synergy for the centre. It also has a demo deck, which provides a conducive environment for prototyping for both facility start-ups.

Features of the Agri-tech centre include:

  • Combination of applied plant science, the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, and engineering. This will accelerate start-ups’ competitive research and technology translation. Temperature, humidity, CO2, oxygen, pH, plant nutrients, and lighting can all be precisely controlled and monitored from anywhere with an internet connection, which is also beneficial for safety measures during the Covid-19 situation. The ability to use multispectral imaging provides a real-time quantitative description of a plant’s physiological, anatomical, biochemical, and ontogenetic properties.
  • Sustainability in urban agriculture, where power consumption data for individual subsystems is collected in the centre to allow for machine learning, such as detecting opportunities for energy savings and training AI to detect early failure warnings in the subsystems. The centre also enables wastewater recycling, allowing for water conservation for the validation and translation of filtration technology.

Singapore is well known for being a city-state with a dense urban population; less than 1% of its land is dedicated to agriculture. However, in recent years, the country has attempted to resurrect its agricultural ambitions, with the goal of becoming Asia’s urban agri-food tech hub. Despite accounting for more than 20% of global Agri-commodity trade flows, Singapore faces looming food security vulnerabilities and a lack of self-sufficiency in the food supply. Less than 10% of Singapore’s current food supply is produced locally, prompting the government of Singapore to announce an ambitious goal of increasing this to 30% by 2030, which was revealed earlier last year. The country is currently investing heavily in R&D in AgriTech and high-productivity innovation. Food production in Singapore is thus a rising sector with its sights firmly set on technology, having evolved from a declining industry.

Since Singapore’s 30 by 30 announcement, there has been a significant increase in collaboration to accelerate the progress of AgriTech startups. The Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Enterprise Singapore (ESG) promotes global investment in Singapore’s food sector to support the country’s food security strategy.

Correspondingly, multinational corporations are capitalising on Singapore’s strong position as a regional AgriTech R&D hub. Singapore is already the world’s second-largest trading hub for food commodities. And now, Singapore is home to several digital hubs for leading food and agriculture companies, intending to drive technology and agri-food innovation, often with a focus on sustainability.

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