Food ties people together and is an expression of culture. This has never been as true as in Singapore, which recently had its vibrant hawker culture recognised by UNESCO.

But it’s also a small nation facing serious threats to food security, with no natural resources and 5.7 million mouths to feed. Just one per cent of the country’s land is available for food production, according to the Singapore Food Agency.

Technology will be the key to unlocking Singapore’s food production potential, says U Chee Lioy, Industry Cluster Lead for Public Sector, SAP Southeast Asia. He discusses how it can make farming processes more efficient and reduce manpower challenges.

Improving farming efficiency

Singapore has set out to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030. The country’s Lim Chu Kang region will be transformed into a high-tech agricultural land to produce three times as much food as it does now. The region will be equipped with improved electricity, water and transport infrastructure to support high-tech farming over the next three years.

Tech plays a crucial role in helping Singapore improve its farming efficiency, Chee Lioy says. Sensors can be used in produce fields to measure soil and weather conditions, and be deployed on farming equipment to measure the yield and standard of crops. This data will give farmers a better idea of their produce quality.

Camera-equipped satellites and drones can also help in these assessments. These technologies have become “more accurate and affordable”, according to Chee Lioy, capable of “amazing detail” when collecting images of fields from above.

Drones can even help distribute bugs into fields as a form of natural pest control, he adds. Robots will also “soon automate many farming processes” such as weeding, fertilising, seeding, and pruning plants.

Ensuring food safety

Agritech innovations can help Singapore increase its farming efficiency, but it’s equally important to ensure food safety, Chee Lioy says.

Singapore became the first country in the world to approve the sale of lab-grown meat last December. Cultured chicken from American startup Eat Just is made from animal cells, and takes about 14 days to create, reported CNBC’s Make It.

The meat had gone through an evaluation process by the Singapore Food Agency that considered factors such as the product’s manufacturing process and ingredients used, according to The Straits Times.

The food agency has also recently launched the Future Ready Food Safety Hub to drive food safety research.

Regulators can enhance food safety by keeping track of the sources of food supplies, Chee Lioy says. SAP’s Agribusiness Platform provides organisations with a single logistics platform to manage their supply chain. This ensures they can quickly identify any unsafe food sources, and create accountability in the supply chain, he explains.

Overcoming manpower challenges

Another challenge facing Singapore’s agriculture is the lack of manpower. Agribusinesses need “to work smarter using the right skills and tools”, Chee Lioy says.

SAP worked with Ukrainian grain producer MGrain to increase its exports sixfold with only double of its previous manpower. Its SAP S/4HANA platform helped the company streamline its business processes and reduce manpower requirements.

To reach the ‘30 by 30’ goal, Singapore needs to make food production more efficient, safer and overcome manpower challenges. Tech can pave the way forward.