It’s hard to imagine that somewhere north-west of Singapore, beyond the business hum of the city, there’s a solitary family farm responsible for supplying approximately 140 tonnes of American bullfrog meat a year to various local markets, supermarkets and restaurants like NTUC Fairprice and No Signboard Seafood. Running the farm is director Chelsea Wan, who joined her father’s Wan Bock Thiaw business in 2006. The senior Wan waded into the frog business in the 1970s and built Jurong Frog Farm on Old Jurong Road in 1981, before moving to a 1.2 hectare farmland in Lim Chu Kang Agro-technology Park in 1993. But the future of the heritage farm seems marred with uncertainty, as its lease expires on its 40th year of operations in 2021 and the land will be taken over for new military training grounds.

 

“The multiple short term extensions (two to three years each time) by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) have been draining the family’s spirits since 2013, making it difficult to properly invest in technology to optimise operations on the farm. We started requesting for land extension as early as 2009 but didn’t get a clear indication that the lease would eventually be extended till 2021. If we had known we had 11 more years then, we wouldn’t have had to make piecemeal plans on upgrading farm infrastructure and implementation of systems. The short term extensions had, to a large extent, impeded us from making better business decisions. Although the government recently announced tenders for new plots of farmland, the land was ultimately not awarded to any tenderers. The reason given to us, the farms, was that the bid price was too low, despite this being an open price bid and there were a total of three bidders.”

 

 

“I think it’s very important to build up a strong local production base in the interest of food security, especially since we import more than 90 per cent of our food. I think the frog farm deserves recognition for providing an alternative source of protein, rather than viewing us as a strictly niche food producer. If we look back, historically, farming used to contribute greatly to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Singapore in the early ‘70s.” 

 

“Farming is an important cornerstone to all societies, including Singapore. I think it’s crucial for the next generation to understand and appreciate this part of their country’s legacy. Even though certain trades have been phased out due to externalities, agriculture is still flourishing, albeit on a smaller scale, in Singapore. Of course, as with any other industry, there are a number of challenges of running a frog farm. We are the first and only frog farmers in Singapore, but it can be difficult trying to rear livestock in such a land-scarce country (especially compared to our neighbouring breeders) and still keep cost competitiveness. Also, being a sunset industry, it can be hard to retain good local workers on the farm. To modernise our operations, we have to think quite far outside the box, especially since it’s such a niche trade. Using tech will be costly as machines need to be customised and made to fit our scale.”

 

“Our product – frog – requires us to be continuously educating our customer and the general public to its many uses and benefits. My father knew the importance of innovation and had started R&D on hashima or snow jelly since 1997. The premium hashima dessert with American ginseng we launched in 2012 is very popular, especially within the Asian community, for its beautifying properties. As the only local manufacturers of hashima, we’ve kept our prices quite constant throughout the years. Whereas the prices of imported hashima have been creeping up, due to a drop in stock availability. I’m sure climate change has affected frog populations throughout the world.”

 

Pssst… I Work As A Frog Farmer

 

As a business owner, my mind is constantly on diversifying. There’s always an incessant hunt for people with the right expertise and knowledge in frog products. For example, we’re working to open up the market for frog meat as specialised dog food. We worked with a few vets to introduce the meat into the diets of pets with chronic skin issues and saw good results. This new line of product now contributes to five per cent of our overall revenue and we foresee this figure to climb as more people realise it’s a viable alternative of pet food. I also started a skincare line called Fruge Bioactive Collagen last October. When our American bullfrogs are freshly harvested, we obtain bioactive collagen from the skins which is then purified in our labs. The bioactive collagen forms a long lasting layer over the skin, locking in moisture, keeping the skin hydrated. The product has already received positive feedback from customers, especially from those suffering from skin problems like eczema or diabetic wounds.”

 

“Since we’ve opened up our farms on the weekends and welcomed the public to get to know a different side of Singapore, it has been pretty well received. We conduct farm tours to educate not just the children, but everyone, about the different uses of frog.”

 

Read more about it at http://jurongfrogfarm.com.sg/

 

ALSO READ: PSSST… I WORK AS A BOOKBINDER

 

 

 

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