And Ayr-based SAC Consultant Carol-Anne Warnock saw at first hand how local farmers survive by hopping on the intensive farming bandwagon to meet the challenges facing food producers as society becomes increasingly urbanized.
Carole-Ann visited Singapore to attend the 27th conference of the Royal Agricultural Societies of the Commonwealth (RASC) - an organisation set up in 1957 by the Duke of Edinburgh to promote the work of Agricultural Show Societies and provide a forum for discussing and sharing the latest farming ideas and techniques across the commonwealth.
Many might question a conference host like Singapore - a country as famous for farming as Jamaica is for bobsledding! But the host city was perfectly fitted to the conference theme of “Agriculture at the crossroads: bridging the rural-urban divide.”
Singapore is most certainly at a crossroads. Back in 1965, a quarter of the country’s land mass (14,500 hectares) was committed to agriculture - and the country boasted 100% self sufficiency in eggs and pork, and 80% self sufficiency in poultry.
Today, Singapore has a mere 720 hectares of agricultural land, with the average farm of less than 4 hectares. It is now only 25% self sufficient in eggs, 10% in fish and 8% in leafy greens, with pig farming phased out completely.
Industrialisation and a rising population have demanded land for housing, recreation, business, defence, waste disposal and water. Despite reclaiming 23% of their land area from the sea since independence in 1963, many farmers have had to retreat four times from urban sprawl, with some giving up completely.
Others, though, are proving resourceful and innovative. One such inspiring business we visited is Skygreens, the world’s first low carbon, hydraulic driven vertical farm. By farming vertically they make the most of limited land, water and energy, maximizing their output within a very tight space. The firm is currently achieving 10 times the yield per hectare of tropical leafy vegetables compared to their equivalent traditional ‘horizontal’ farms.
Another business utilizing limited space is Comcrop - Singapore’s first urban rooftop aquaponics farm. Established in 2011 as a community based agriculture project, ComCrop aims to produce 3,200 tonnes of fresh leafy greens to supply 3% of the local market. Vertical stacking allows planting of up to ten times the amount of plants in the same area.
Another business using intensive farming methods to add value is Jurong Frog Farm – where 20,000 American bull frogs are farmed across just 1.2 hectares of farmland.
Originally their main sales were frog meat - but up to 70% of the carcass went as waste. Now the majority of their frog skin is sold as chips - flavoured with different spices. And fatty tissue harvested from around the fallopian tubes makes a niche nourishment product Hashima - which in its liquid form could be compared to the dessert tapioca.
By exploiting what was waste, Jurong Frog Farm has increased turnover and ensured business sustainability.
Singapore farming may have special problems but for me there were a number of lessons Scottish and UK farmers can take from them.
Lesson 1 – Make the most of what you have! Ensure that you are utilising your land mass to its full potential.
Lesson 2 – Reduce waste. Scrutinize your waste products for earning potential after all one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Lesson 3 – Engage your public. They will not support you if they do not know what you are doing or why!
Carol-Anne Warnock visited Singapore as a “Next Generation” delegate thanks to bursary awarded by the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) and support from SRUC.