Ahead of the virtual Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit, the summit's organizers caught up with David Farquhar, CEO at IGS about advancing indoor farming systems in Asia, new projects on the horizon and working with governments to scale up controlled environment agriculture.
What role can indoor farming play in delivering greater sustainability and resilience to Asia’s urban food systems, especially post-Covid?
The resilience of food supply chains has been tested to the limit throughout 2020 in the wake of COVID-19 and has brought very quickly to the fore the food security challenges Asia and most other regions will face with climate change. Now is the time to be focusing very clearly on local (urban and peri-urban) food production to ensure greater self-sufficiency and less reliance on imports. Greater adoption of agricultural technologies is imperative to ensure optimum use of available space, be it urban, industrial or uncultivatable land, all of these are spaces that can be used to introduce more indoor farming methods. As part of the agricultural ecosystem, this will deliver a far more controlled and sustainable method for producing fresh, home grown crops, probably amounting to something like 25-30% of a fully balanced diet.
Does the APAC market offer particular opportunities or challenges for scaling urban/indoor farming, compared to other global markets? What particular projects is IGS excited about in this region? What progress has already been made?
Asia-Pacific has a very differing climate across its expanse, which makes it hard to compare easily with other regions. The population in these regions is significant and growing substantially which puts food security very high on the agenda, highlighting the importance of finding new ways to produce and complement the existing agricultural ecosystem. In addition to growing populations, land and water scarcity are also becoming significant in certain geographies and this makes indoor farming – which requires a much smaller footprint and utilizes a fraction of the water typically required to produce crops – a very interesting proposition. This has led to some exciting collaborations between commercial and government bodies. For example, in Singapore and Hong Kong, where land is very scarce and expensive, there is a demand for alternative options of producing food. The appetite for indoor and alternative growing methods is highlighted in Singapore’s 30 by 30 initiative, aiming to reduce import reliance and expand food self-sustainability.
In terms of exciting projects, we are delighted to be working with Eden Towers (https://eden-towers.com/) a very ambitious new entrant to the national and regional food chains that are re-localising across APAC. Based in Jakarta and privately financed, they have major plans for regional expansion with sites planned already in Singapore, Australia and Indonesia. The first location will be Perth, Western Australia and the initial farm is under manufacture for imminent deployment. This is what we believe to be the first of many in this region. We are in advanced discussions across the APAC region with existing growers and other prospects and are currently trialling a range of crops specific to the cuisine and tastes of the population. These are progressing very well in our system and producing some very tasty results. We have other customers in the pipeline with projects in Singapore, India and Polynesia.