Spurring R&D in farming

By Audrey Tan17 August 2017 Singapore

Instead of trying to get farmers to outbid one another for new farmland that will be released later this month, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will have them out-think the competition with their concepts.

When new farmland for growing leafy vegetables is released, the plots will be tendered out on a concept - not price - basis.

This means that the price of the land will be fixed, and farmers will not have to worry about engaging in a price war in trying to secure the land.

Such a tender method - adopted for the first time by the AVA - will give farmers more liquidity to invest in high-tech equipment or research and development (R&D) to increase productivity and yield.

Releasing land this way could help to push farmers initially sceptical about such investments to take the first step. This is especially so because their bids will be based on concepts instead, and judged on factors such as production capability, track record, relevant experience and qualifications, and whether they can harness innovation to improve and sustain production, and keep their businesses viable.

Under this fixed-price tender method, land will be parcelled out by farm type. Other than leafy vegetables, the other three farm types to be tendered out this way, over the next few years, will be for quail eggs, food fish and beansprouts.

This new tender method is an important move for Singapore's food security. It comes at a time when farmland in land-scarce Singapore continues to shrink and climate change poses a threat to global food supplies more than ever.

Currently, local food production meets less than 10 per cent of total food demand. Singapore has to step up its food security within the constraints of limited land - and the way to do this is through R&D.

But encouraging innovation would take more than a day. Mindsets have to be changed through policy, while also taking into account farmers' financial constraints. This tender method seems set to help do that.