SINGAPORE Aug 4 Japan's Panasonic Corp
, best known for its television sets and home theatre
systems, wants to feed Singaporeans its radishes and lettuce.
A unit of the electronics conglomerate last week started
selling to a chain of Japanese restaurants in Singapore fresh
produce grown in what it says is the first licensed indoor
vegetable farm in the island state.
The move ties Panasonic's deeper push into farming
technology with land-scarce Singapore's ambition to reduce its
near-total reliance on food imports.
"We foresee agriculture to be a potential growth portfolio,
given the global shortage of arable land, climate change and
increasing demand for quality food as well as stable food
supply," Hideki Baba, managing director of Panasonic Factory
Solutions Asia Pacific, told reporters.
The facility, which presently has a small production
capacity of 3.6 tonnes annually, produces 10 types of vegetables
such as mini red radishes and baby spinach.
Indoor farming has found favour with other hi-tech Japanese
companies as well. Fujitsu Ltd is growing lettuce at
its Fukushima province plant, while Sharp Corp is
testing growing strawberries indoors in Dubai.
In Singapore, Panasonic's 248 square metre farm is located
inside a factory building on the outskirts of the city, where
standard fluorescent lighting gives way to a pinkish-purple glow
from LED lights brought in to nurture the plants. The company
restricts visitors to maintain the controlled levels of
temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide.
It aims to grow more than 30 crop varieties by March 2017
and account for around 5 percent of local vegetable production.
It said the vegetables grown at its facility could be half the
price of those flown in from Japan.
Panasonic said Singapore was ideal for its indoor farm due
to the country's low food self-sufficiency and limited land.
Singapore, ranked by the World Bank as the second most
densely populated country, imports more than 90 percent of its
Singapore produced nearly 22,000 tonnes of vegetables in
2013, compared with a little more than 17,000 tonnes in 2004,
according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority. Last year
it imported 514,574 tonnes of vegetables.
While Singapore ranks fifth out of 109 countries in the
Economist Intelligence Unit's global food security index, the
government wants to diversify its food sources and become more
self reliant in producing eggs, fish and leafy vegetables.
As part of its efforts, it has provided some funding and
research support to local vertical farming company Sky Greens,
which grows leafy vegetables at its farm in three-storey high
frames inside greenhouses.
The farm currently has 600 such towers and intends to expand
to 2,000 by next year. It can produce up to one tonne of
vegetables a day, which it sells to local supermarket FairPrice.
Some farms in Singapore are also using aeroponics or hydroponics
- growing plants without soil.
Agro-technology expert Lee Sing Kong said Singapore can
improve its food security for perishable items like vegetables,
which cannot be stored for long periods unlike grains, by using
new techniques of cultivation to increase productivity.
"We must grow some of our own in order to provide a kind of
buffer during the period when supply has been disrupted," said
Lee, a professor of biological sciences at Singapore's Nanyang
Still, some locally grown produce comes at a premium. At
FairPrice, Sky Greens' nai bai vegetable retails at more than
double the price of an import from China.
(1 US dollar = 1.2470 Singapore dollar)
(Additional reporting by Sophie Knight in TOKYO; Editing by
Rachel Armstrong and Emily Kaiser)