Urban Farming: Cities are growing crops on their roofs to secure food supplies

The urgency for food security in Singapore was further highlighted by Covid-19 as this virus put the resilience of supply chains to the test.

Singapore imports 90% of its food, and the city is eager to be self-sufficient and has invested considerably in urban farming

Government seeks to support small-scale urban farms

Singapore’s food security strategies have enabled it to tide over supply chain disruptions so far, but “if the crisis is a protracted one lasting more than six months, there might be a need for people to step up to supplement the government’s efforts” food security expert, Professor Paul Teng told the Straits Times

For instance, residents could be more open to purchasing frozen food instead of fresh and choose to buy local produce to gradually move away from import dependence. 

Before the pandemic, the Singapore government had pledged $207m ($149m (US)) to help farmers boost productivity and fund research. An additional $30m was pumped in after the pandemic’s disruptions to global markets for food. 

Farms on Roofs

The rooftops of nine multi-storey car parks managed by the Housing Development Board (HDB) will soon be made available for urban farmers to rent space and grow crops. Currently, only 1% of its scarce land is being used for agriculture. 

Urban Agriculture: Cities are growing crops on their roofs to secure food supplies - CleanTech News
Source: TODAY 

This is part of Singapore’s “30-by-30” goal – to produce 30% of the country’s nutritional needs locally by 2030. The sites will be used to farm mainly vegetables since they are relatively easy to grow and nutritionally dense.  

Sustenir: How Vertical Farming Grew Strawberries in a Tropical Climate 

Sustenir is a Singapore-based agri-tech company that made headlines with its strawberry and arugula produce in its hydroponic facility. Vertical farming technology presents an alternative for tropical countries like Singapore by growing non-native crops. 

The company uses a laboratory-controlled vertical farming method based on artificial intelligence and LED lighting. The use of LED lighting hastens the photosynthesis rate as its growth is no longer dependent on sunlight exposure. 

By growing locally, the gradual move-away from import dependence will in turn reduce carbon emissions and food waste in the transportation process. The company has also set up shop in Hong Kong growing kale – a country with similar space constraints.

Can you grow your own food? 

Globalisation has removed the need for communities to get involved in food production. This is especially true in cities, but studies have shown that cities are capable of meeting up to 100% of its fresh produce needs, which could result in savings of $115 million annually. 

Covid-19 has caused disruptions to domestic food supply chains and production. The United Nations World Food Programme warned that an estimated 265 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020, up from 135 million before the pandemic.  

The situation is further aggravated by more frequent extreme weather events and pests such as the current locusts plague – the worst recorded in 70 years, impacting food production in 23 countries. 

Urban Farming for Food Security and the Environment

Beyond supply chain resilience, urban farming methods also shelter crops from natural disasters and are more reliable with less dependence on rainfall and sunshine. 

The current industrial agriculture system is accountable for high energy costs for the transportation of foodstuffs. A study by Rich Pirog, the associate director of the Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, has shown that the average conventional produce item travels 2,400 km – using 1 US gallon of fossil fuel. 

Similarly, a study by Marc Xuereb and Region of Waterloo Public Health estimated that switching to locally grown food could save nearly 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide or the equivalent of almost 17,000 car emissions. 

Green roofs can also curb air and noise pollution – a notorious problem for many major cities. A rooftop containing 2000 m² of uncut grass has the potential to remove 4000kg of particulate matter – another health concern in urban cities. Only one square metre of green roof is needed to offset the annual particulate matter emissions of a car. 

Esther Chan

Esther is a Senior Writer at CleanTech News. Esther first discovered cleantech when in Italy, she worked with companies to integrate existing business practises with new sustainability initiatives. Her passion for environmental protection has grown much since. Through her writing, she aims to shine a light on how corporations, start-ups, and individuals alike can champion sustainability through clean technology. With her grounding in science, she looks to bridge the gap between academia and industry practise in clean technology with her focus on tech innovation and has even founded a startup herself.