If coronavirus has taught the World anything then one of the lessons will be future food security. Singapore has the highest ranking for the past two years, this may change because of Covid-19. But panic buying and closed borders lead to many empty shelves in supermarkets.
In an immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government has accelerated funding for local farms to “grow more and grow faster” over the next 6 to 24 months, according to the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), established in April last year. The agency is also working to add to a supply network that already taps 170 countries or regions for its food, it said in an emailed statement last month.
Over the longer-term, its drive for greater food security is based on a three-pronged strategy to diversify the nation’s food sources, support companies to grow overseas and lift domestic production.
Japan is also looking at the younger generation to help. With the average age of a farmer in Japan at 67 and few candidates to replace those dying out, the country has been forced to become a pioneer in so-called vertical farming.
Globally renowned firms such as Panasonic, Toshiba and Fujitsu have tried their hand—converting old semi-conductor production lines with varying levels of success.
One of the few companies to turn a quick profit, Spread produces 11 million heads of lettuce annually from its latest factory in Kyoto, a vast sterile area where the vegetables are stacked on shelves several metres high.
Machines shift the lettuces around the factory to areas where the light, temperature and humidity are ideal for that stage of growth. The process works without soil or pesticide, and only a dozen or so humans are employed to collect the lettuce at the end.
In the private sector, some agricultural firms are already heeding this call and starting to use robots. But staffing company Pasona is still focused on persuading humans to take on agricultural careers. Pasona’s CEO, Yasuyuki Nambu, had the company’s headquarters made into a functioning urban farm.
The nine-story building, located in teeming central Tokyo, has been outfitted with 43,000 square feet of space dedicated to growing more than 200 kinds of crops. Flowers and fruit trees grace the building’s outdoor balconies, a rice paddy and a broccoli field greet visitors in the main lobby, and tomato plants hang from the ceiling of a conference room. Pasona’s employees help harvest the crops, and the company canteen cooks them up for lunch.