Singapore is moving to the sky for its food production. It has just opened the world’s first commercial vertical farm. It has had early success. Perhaps in the future Singapore’s skyline will contain many farms among its towers.
“We are always looking at ways to increase our sources of food supply and if we can produce some in Singapore, then that can go some way to meet local demand,” said Mr. Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for National Development and Trade and Industry.
Singapore is a small country made up almost entirely of city. Therefore there is very little space for farmland. Only about seven percent of Singapore’s food is grown locally. With the vertical farms, they hope to reach 10 percent in the near future.
The vertical farm, which has been developed by Sky Green Farms, consists of 120 aluminum towers, each extending up to 9 meters in height. It can produce 500kg of three kinds of vegetables per day. The farm currently has 120 vertical towers, and hopes to increase the number to 300 by next year.
The vegetables grown on the high rise farms costs 10% or 20% more than those that are normally grown. Despite this, they are flying off the shelves hence the need for expansion.
“The challenge will be to get investors interested. This type of farm needs (relatively) higher capital,” said Dr. Ngiam Tong Tau, the chairman of Sky Greens. “This is a new system, so people need to be trained (and) we need to attract people to come here to work.”
Not everyone fully supports the idea. Back in 2010, ‘The Economist’ examined the amount of lighting needed to grow food in a vertical farm. The prohibitive cost of that much energy might be worthwhile in a place like the Antarctic, where importing food is so expensive. Keeping a farm going year-round in other places might not be possible.
However, the technology uses about 10% of the water required in traditional farming. Having the high rise farms near the city also cuts down on transportation costs and carbon emissions. Some studies have stated that by 2050 around 70% of people will live in urban areas. Hence there is logic in having food grown near this high percentage of the population. Singapore may be ahead of the curve.