June 15, 2014 00:00 By Watchiranont Thongtep
Edible gardens project aims to help ease total reliance on food import
This year, the 60,000-square-metre roof of the People’s Park Complex in Singapore’s Chinatown will be fully turned into a farm by the Edible Gardens City project.
“I think we can make a small impact if we convert a rooftop into a sustainable, productive farm. That is a footprint that changes all unused rooftops into farms that add economic value to the property. That is sustainable in a longer term,” co-founder Bjorn Low told The Nation.
The project led by Singaporean Low and Briton Rob Pearce aims to promote and encourage local communities to grow food on unused spaces like rooftops and sidewalks. They also want to help the island state, which totally relies on food import, in terms of food security.
Low said the building’s management had given his team the green light to go ahead with the rooftop farm, which will be the biggest in Asia.
Edible Gardens City has already signed up contracts to supply vegetables for some restaurants, such as the Mideast eatery Artichock Cafe, Cajun Kings seafood restaurant and Overdoughs bakery.
To ensure that they grow the right vegetables, the team first has detailed conversations with prospective clients before sowing any seeds.
Over the past two years, the Edible Gardens team has been working hard with many local communities to educate them about the benefits of growing their own food.
“There are more than 500 community gardens across the country, but we don’t think that is enough. We want to welcome more communities to be a part of our family,” he said.
However, the output from this attempt appears to be very small, compared to the real demand from this import-dependent country.
Besides local consumption, Singapore also needs feed its international visitors. Last year, the island state welcomed more than 15.5 million tourists, which generated more than SS$23.6 billion or Bt600 billion.
Catering to too many people
Christopher Christie, executive chef at Marina Bay Sands, the country’s largest integrated resort, told The Nation that the hotel prepared about 15,000-20,000 meals daily for its guests and staff.
Just to feed its 10,000 or so employees, the hotel requires 1.2 tonnes of meat, 1.5 tonnes of vegetables and 300-500 kilograms of rice daily. Most of these ingredients are imported.
According to the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, Singapore buys more than 90 per cent of foodstuffs from overseas. Although Singapore scored moderately well in food availability, its rank was largely driven by its limited agricultural sector.
However, Singapore now aims to increase its conventional agricultural production. For instance, they will produce enough eggs locally to boost consumption from 23 per cent to 30 per cent, fish from 4 per cent to 5 per cent and fresh leafy vegetables from 7 per cent to 10 per cent in the near future.
Paul Teng, who is one of Asia’s leading food security experts and a senior fellow for food security at the Nanyang Technological University, said the government had taken several measures, such as diversifying food import sources, developing non-traditional supply chains, reducing losses and waste and investing in urban food security research and development.
As of last year, over 375 rai or 84 football fields of green roofs had been installed in more than 500 buildings in Singapore.
To promote this sky-rise greenery in Singapore, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board has introduced landscaping of urban spaces and high-rises programme as part of the Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme.
The initiatives are complementary and offer building owners and developers incentives such as additional gross floor area if rooftop greenery is installed, as well as co-funding for rooftop and vertical greenery installation.
Last year, 110 projects benefited from the Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme, contributing to about 22 rai of green roofs and green walls.