Agricultural Infrastructure in Singapore: A New Frontier for Built Environment?

As Singapore begins to nurse itself back to economic health with the roll out of mass vaccination globally, building back better and stronger is a key priority on all fronts–including and especially resilience in supply chains for food and agriculture. The SG Green Plan, announced by multiple agencies of the Government earlier this year, has ambitious goals for local agricultural output and food production–30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs produced locally by 2030, up from under 10% today.  Such a trebling of agricultural productivity in a country with so little land, and even less available for agriculture, represents a unique challenge–one that the Built Environment sector will need to be involved in solving as well.

The future of agriculture in Singapore is urban, hi-tech, and dense–imagine compact but highly productive vertical farms, indoor controlled-environment urban farms, automated fisheries and egg farms, and better-equipped existing local farms in the Kranji area. The goal is to diversify Singapore’s food sources in the event of future disruptions, as described recently by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing. According to a timely report from ARUP, urban agriculture in Singapore will bring several infrastructural challenges: hydroponics, which will be a $3 billion industry by 2024, will be required to enhance food yields; better food waste management facilities will be vital to reducing food wastage and building a circular food economy in Singapore; and vertical farms as well as rooftop urban farming will become more prevalent to maximise arable space. High-tech urban farms in particular–which would involve hydroponics, controlled environments, LED lighting, and smart sensing and supervision technologies–will be an engineering challenge in Singapore, which is as yet inexperienced with the mass deployment of such infrastructure. These structures will require sustainable, energy-efficient design, close to 100% up time, the integration of complicated technologies, impeccable electrical, lighting, and plumbing systems, and the ability to endure the wear and tear of biological industry. At the scale these would need to be produced in the coming decade, they present a great opportunity for the Singaporean building industry to warm its infrastructural muscles in the agriculture space.     

Other exciting infrastructural developments would be the need for marine infrastructure to support proposed commercial fishing activities off the southern coast, high-tech pisciculture facilities and vertical prawn cultivation farms in Tuas. All of these developments point to a niche that can and must be eventually filled by the BE sector to support the development of instrastructurally-heavy aspects of Singapore’s agricultural ambitions and food self-sufficiency goals in the coming decade.

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