Singapore’s urban farms provide resilience during COVID-19 outbreak
Singapore turned to urban farming to accelerate local food production as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disrupted global supply chains. The municipal government published plans to turn car park rooftops in public housing estates into urban farms and is looking for other areas to grow food within the city.
With a population of five and a half million and a landmass of just 715 square kilometers, the Republic of Singapore is forced to import most of its food, as only 10 percent of its requirements come from local production. The country imports most of its fresh vegetables and fruits from neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand, and from further afield, from countries like Australia, Chile, Israel, and New Zealand.
However, restrictions on population movement because of the COVID-19 outbreak have severely disrupted farming and food supply chains, raising concern of widespread shortages and price increases. “The current COVID-19 situation underscores the importance of local food production as part of Singapore’s strategies to ensure food security,” authorities said in a statement. “Local food production mitigates our reliance on imports and provides a buffer in the event of food supply disruptions.”
Lessons for climate change response
Widespread disruption of agricultural supply chains is a scenario that many cities have been preparing for in response to climate change. Extreme weather events and slow onset climatic shifts disrupt agriculture at every stage of the value chain and can lead to the sort of supply restrictions and price increases that cities are currently facing due to COVID-19.
Spikes in demand from panic buying has put further pressure on supplies and forced the government to look at ways to overcome the shortage of land. Only 1% of the country’s territory is devoted to agriculture, and production costs are higher than the rest of Southeast Asia.
In response, the government has provided a $21 million grant to support the production of eggs, leafy vegetables, and fish. They have also begun to identify alternative spaces for urban farming, such as industrial areas and vacant sites. As part of that project, the Singapore food agency will launch a tender for rooftop farms on public housing car parks for urban farming.
This movement builds on existing projects such as the Sky Greens project, which uses vast glass towers that rotate to capture sunlight. These multi-layered vegetable towers take around eight hours to complete a full circle absorbing sunlight and being watered when it reaches the bottom of its cycle.
Singapore has fostered many such innovative urban farming projects over the past several decades; however, few have managed to deliver food supplies at scale. However, with renewed attention on local food production, perhaps the urban farming revolution will now begin to bear fruit.