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Singapore sets a path toward food and water independence

Matt Hamblen | May 25, 2016
Sky Greens provides lettuce from vertical farms

Today, Sky Greens’ lettuce is sold in a single market chain, where the price is about 20% above the cost of other leafy vegetables. Consumers are willing to pay more for the goods because it is tasty and very fresh -- usually just a day old.

Once the capital costs are paid off, the price of vertical farm lettuce could be less than imported lettuce. The cost of erecting one 30-foot-high tower with 38 tiers of growing troughs is about $11,000. Sky Greens wants to expand its current operation to 2,000 towers, reaching a total cost of roughly $26 million.

What seems most obvious about the Sky Greens venture is how important it has become for Singapore to become food independent. The country began moving toward water independence over several decades, going from importing nearly all of its water in the 1960s to cutting that amount to less than half in recent years.

The water initiative came after the country embarked in the 1970s on an ambitious plan to clean up its rivers and to capture rainwater by setting up a series of reservoirs. In 2008, the Marina Barrage dam was opened across the Marina Channel near a dense urban area of high rises and at the confluence of five rivers. The Barrage helps with flood control in nearby streets where more than 150 drain sensors are installed. The sensors detect if flooding is imminent and will tweet out warnings to residents to take precautions.

Singapore also desalinates water and recaptures gray water with the use of membrane technology to create what it calls "New" water, which can be used for watering plants and a variety of other purposes.

Because Singapore is a small island nation, it's easy to see why water and food independence are major imperatives. As the world’s geo-political situation evolves in coming years and the nation becomes potentially more vulnerable, Singapore seems to be taking steps that should make it mostly self-reliant. Self-reliance was an imperative invoked by the nation’s beloved first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who died last year. Average citizens and companies based in Singapore like Sky Greens seem to have taken Lee’s vision to heart.


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