Singapore Budget 2019: New aquaculture centre to work on improving Singapore's food resilience

Cheryl Teh Straits Times 18 Feb 19;

SINGAPORE - More is being done to transform the food production process, and make Singapore's food supplies more secure.

“In the digital age, we still need food, not just bits and bytes,” Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his Budget speech on Monday (Jan 18), adding that the agriculture and food production sectors are transforming to meet this need.

A new Centre of Innovation in Aquaculture at Temasek Polytechnic will work on promoting aquaculture (high-tech marine farming) and will be funded to find ways to improve Singapore’s food resilience, said Mr Heng.

He cited the example of St John’s sea bass, a fish breed developed by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s (AVA) Marine Aquaculture Centre and its collaboration with the Temasek Life Sciences laboratory, a beneficiary of Temasek Trust.

This fish, Mr Heng said, is less susceptible to diseases, and can be bred in 30 per cent less time. A start-up, Allegro Aqua, is looking to scale this up and bring more of this fish into the world.

Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of food consumed in the country, according to AVA numbers. In 2018, 9 per cent of all the fish eaten in Singapore was produced locally.

This foray into production of an improved sea bass breed is one of the initiatives that will advance the aquaculture industry locally.

In 2016, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Dr Koh Poh Koon announced that Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates who want to kick-start a career in the aquaculture industry can sign up for an aquaculture (the breeding, rearing and harvesting of plants and animals in water) Earn and Learn Programme.

The year-long work-study programme, developed by the AVA and Temasek Polytechnic with input from local fish farmers, lets candidates have first-hand work experience in aquaculture.

In 2003, the AVA set up the $33 million Marine Aquaculture Centre on St John’s Island. This was to promote the reliable supply of a variety of tropical food fish, establish benchmarks on the price and quality of fish in local markets, to help stabilise Singapore’s fish supply, and to culture fish using quality and healthy fry that can grow to market size using safe farming practices with minimal antibiotics and other drugs.

The Temasek Life Sciences laboratory has also found a way to produce “Temasek Rice”, a strain which produces four times as much rice per hectare, compared with regular varieties of rice.

Mr Heng added that Enterprise Singapore’s investment arm, Seeds Capital, has appointed seven partners to co-invest in Singapore-based agri-food start-ups.

And this, Mr Heng added, will lead to more than $90 million worth of investments.

Ikan datang: Singapore-developed breed of sea bass to make a splash
ALFRED CHUA Today Online 18 Feb 19;

SINGAPORE — A premium breed of sea bass could soon make its way to the table at homes and in eateries with the help of local aquaculture start-up Allegro Aqua.

Unlike other fish in the market, the St John’s sea bass can be bred in 30 per cent less time and is less susceptible to diseases.

Allegro Aqua is helping to commercialise the new breed of sea bass, which is developed by Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore’s Marine Aquaculture Centre at St John’s Island.

The firm has started supplying the St John’s sea bass fry and fingerlings to farmers in Singapore and around the region, and is looking for a local partner to work with to grow its business.

The start-up was cited by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech on Monday (Feb 18) as an example of how the agriculture and food production sector is transforming itself.

Announcing a S$1 billion war chest to help companies here transform and become more competitive, the Government is also looking to transform the food production process and make Singapore’s food supplies more secure.

As such, a new Centre of Innovation in Aquaculture will be set up at Temasek Polytechnic to support the growth and internationalisation of local aquaculture companies.

The move was welcomed by Allegro Aqua chief executive Peter Chia, who said that such a centre would go some way in “developing interest and creating awareness… especially among the younger generation”.

In order to raise the profile of aquaculture here, “a confluence of things need to come together” in an “inclusive organisation”, said Mr Chia. These factors include: Venture capital funding, entrepreneurs and mentors, as well as support from other industries.

Attracting talent is a critical step, as well as a key challenge, in aquaculture, he added.

“It is important to get people who are passionate about the field… (who are) willing to invest the time and energy,” said Mr Chia, who added that the 10-strong firm needs more people to scale up its operations.

The company is also looking into how to leverage on technology to alleviate its manpower issues, while looking at how to grow its existing partner pool of those from other sectors such as nutrition and engineering.

Allegro Aqua is now in talks with local industry players to cultivate the seabass before looking at retailing the fish in the future.

“What motivated us from the beginning was the recognition that aquaculture was going to be an important part of the supply of food for Asia,” said Mr Chia.

He also welcomed the Government’s “strong internationalisation push” and measures to help local start-ups grow and scale their businesses.

His wish list includes more measures to help develop talent in the sector and a sandbox for innovation within the aquaculture community.