“My generation is detached from our food source,” 27-year-old Danielle Chan tells me. “Most of my peers don’t care where their vegetables come from.” The NUS graduate counts herself fortunate to grow up in a traditional farming environment, as her mother started a vegetable farm in Malaysia that supplied the family with fresh produce year-round. It was only when she studied abroad that she had to buy her own veggies for the first time.
Chan’s immersion in traditional farming, and its limitations in land-scarce Singapore, led her to explore urban farming as her calling. Even before she graduated and took up her first job as a business transformation consultant at IBM, she was looking for ways to pioneer urban farming with a two- pronged approach: to bring fresh, pesticide-free produce closer to people, and to find a sustainable way to grow more with less. A chance observation that the open-air rooftop floor of HDB estate carparks are a plentiful resource led to a testbed farm project at a carpark in Taman Jurong.
Together with an experienced agriculture practitioner, Chan’s agritech company Citiponics began researching and developing its Aqua Organic System using a solid-based, soil-less culture grown in vertical towers. Their first commercial urban farm, a 1,800sqm project on the rooftop of an Ang Mo Kio carpark, now produces up to four tonnes of vegetables monthly, and the government is looking to tender out more of such spaces for commercial farming, under its goal of “30 by 30” – meeting 30 per cent of Singapore’s food security through local produce by 2030.
With less than 30 companies in the agritech sector in Singapore, there is still much room to grow and innovate. Citiponics is still a few years away from breaking even, as the economies of scale are not yet there.
“The goal is to grow the business, improve accessibility to fresh produce, and increase growing space,” says Chan.