Reaping rewards: Vertical crab farming and high-tech vegetables in Singapore

Local food producers are quietly leading the way in transforming cultivation methods, even though Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food.
Nicole Tan Channel NewsAsia 11 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: Local food producers are quietly leading the way in transforming cultivation methods, even though Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food.

They are turning to technology to help overcome land constraints, and industry experts said this is also helping to improve food quality standards here.

At Gills ‘N’ Claws Aquaculture, a single vertical farming structure can house 1,000 crabs compared to just 30 in the same area, using traditional methods. At full capacity, the farm can cultivate 40,000 crabs at one go and produce about 200 tonnes of crabs every year.

Each crab is hatched in Sri Lanka, and when they are about four months old, they are brought to Singapore, weighing about 400g. After about seven weeks, they weigh up to 1 kg - and they are ready for sale.

The company took more than two years to develop this technology, and it said it can price its crabs up to 30 per cent cheaper than its competitors.

Said Mr Steven Suresh, CEO of RBI Holding: "We can sea freight all our crabs, we have special containers designed to sea freight them to Singapore. They reach here in about five to six days, then they come to our farm and we fatten them there. (With) air freight, for 1 kg of crab, you pay about S$3.50 to S$4. (With) sea freight you pay S$0.20, or less than S$0.20 (per kilogram). So – (you will find) major savings.”

Gills 'N' Claws Aquaculture is among a growing number of food producers in Singapore finding innovative ways to farm to cope with land constraints.

Industry experts said other countries are hoping to take a leaf out of Singapore's book, not just in the use of technology, but in terms of food security and safety standards.

Said Mr Christopher Vas, academic director at Murdoch University: "It's starting to play a leadership role insofar as being able to produce top-quality products which, at the same time, meet very stringent standards. As far as the region is concerned, that's where a lot of countries like China and India are looking at what Singapore's doing."

In Singapore, Japanese electronics giant Panasonic grows more than 30 types of vegetables and herbs. With its technology know-how it has created a controlled environment that ensures food quality and safety, and cut overall cultivation time by up to half.

Panasonic has a prototype hyperspectral imaging (HSI) system, which allows the quality of the crops to be monitored throughout the cultivation process. It translates to a 20 to 30 per cent improvement in success rate during harvesting.

“(The) indoor farm is a controlled soil cultivation environment, where we control the lighting, the temperature, as well as carbon dioxide, plus the humidity. With our cultivation technology we're confident (that with) this environment, we can meet the high standards of Singapore food security,” said Mr Alfred Tham, manager, Agriculture Business Unit, Panasonic Factory Solutions.

Its farm currently produces 81 tonnes of vegetables a year. By 2017, it aims to produce 1,000 tonnes of vegetables, or 5 per cent of local production. Panasonic has recently started selling salad to consumers.

- CNA/dl

Farm owner to have a crack at crab-rearing
Gills 'N' Claws awaiting go-ahead to raise crabs hatched in Sri Lanka here, 'which could lower the wholesale price'
Seow Bei Yi The Straits Times 11 Dec 15;

Chilli crab lovers may be able to enjoy the delicacy cooked with locally farmed crabs in future.

Seafood supplier Gills 'N' Claws Aquaculture is awaiting approval to do crab farming in a vertical farm in Neo Tiew Lane, specialising in Sri Lankan mud crabs. It will launch its premises, which now houses and fattens ready-to-sell crabs, tomorrow.

Owner Steven Suresh said rearing the crabs here could lower their wholesale price by at least 10 per cent eventually.

He added that the farm's vertical layout overcomes space constraints. It can also provide fleshier crabs as they are fed and raised here. Imported crabs lose body mass as they are not fed for days en route to Singapore.

The farm's projected annual output is about 200 tonnes of crab.

According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, Singapore imported 5,100 tonnes of crabs from January to November this year.

There are no licensed fish farms cultivating crabs now, but some may import or catch crabs for sale on top of their main farming activities.

Gills 'N' Claws has a fish farm off Pulau Ubin and its parent company, RBI Holding, owns two other crab farms and a hatchery in Sri Lanka, where its mud crabs are bred.

The crabs will be brought here when they are about four months old and weigh about 400g each.

Each crab will be housed in a vertically-stacked, A3-sized plastic container and sprinkled continually with water. The farm can hold up to 40,000 crabs.

They will be fed daily with a ground mixture of chicken liver and trash fish - cheap fish caught off the company's fishery in Pulau Ubin.

When they weigh 800g to 1kg each after about seven weeks, they will be ready for sale.

This system, the brainchild of Mr Suresh, took over two years to research and develop.

"Mud crabs are territorial and carnivorous. In 1 sq m, the advised stocking density is only three crabs," he said. The same space in a vertical farm, he added, can house more than 30.

He added that a vertical farm could eventually lower the cost of Sri Lankan mud crabs, which are an expensive variety favoured for their larger claws.

Most of the crabs eaten here are imported. They can cost more than $30 a kg from wholesalers. Mr Suresh plans to sell his at $26 a kg.

He said that as the company has its own farms and hatcheries, it takes less time to source for and transport the crabs. This lets it transport the young crabs by sea, which is slower than by air.

The crustaceans need not be as tightly packed when shipped, and fewer die during the journey.

Mr Balasundram Pillai, a consultant for Pepper Castle, a restaurant in Dunlop Street which buys imported crabs from Gills 'N' Claws, said the farm's efforts should be encouraged.

"If there is a local pool and source of crabs, consumers' end-cost could be lowered. To have chilli crab cooked using crabs grown here as well would make it a truly Singaporean dish," he said.