Cologne: 09.–13.10.2021 #anuga

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Asian Urban Farming Market

By Rica Facundo and Sophie Boldog

The food industry is a major driver of health and economic wellbeing in Asia, accounting for about 17% of the region’s total GDP and 35% of the total labour force, according to a report by PwC and Food Industry Asia.

However, Covid-19 has exacerbated and exposed the flaws of a globalised and unsustainable food system, with rapid changes in the accessibility and affordability of goods shining new light on local food security and its vulnerabilities.

With an expected 250m more mouths to feed in the region by 2030, the rise in Asian urban farming reveals a more democratic and secure way forward for private institutions, the public sector and citizens to become more involved in sustainable practices.

Greenhouse

Inflatable greenhouses by Eliza Hague, India

Market Snapshot

By 2050, 2.5bn more people are expected to live in urban areas; almost 90% of that increase will take place in Asia and Africa (source: UN)

Spending on food in Asia is expected to double to £5.9 trillion ($8 trillion, €6.7 trillion) by 2030 (source: Temasek, PwC and Rabobank)

Among young high-net-worth Asians, interest in combining financial and social goals is high, with 86% thinking they have more opportunity to tackle societal issues through investing (source: RBC Wealth Management)

Building with plants

Urban Living by Chris Barbalis, Singapore

Growing communities

Farming used to be the domain of traditional farmers in the provinces, but the pandemic has democratised and decentralised the Asian agriculture industry and prompted new interest in backyard farming among everyday citizens. This emerging behaviour is providing brands with an opportunity to reframe urban farming as a purpose-led lifestyle movement at the intersection of wellbeing and sustainability.

To promote corporate wellbeing, Singapore's DBS Bank is launching Food Forest – the country’s first community farm on the premises of a bank with more than 50 varieties of edible plants. Bringing the farm-to-table concept into the workplace, in-house chefs will turn the harvests from the Food Forest into freshly cooked meals for employees.

“We hope to get our employees interested enough in urban farming to be involved in one of the more than 1,500 community gardens across our housing estates, or to even try their hand at growing small batches of crops in their own home,” explains Shee Tse Koon, country head of DBS Singapore.

Lifestyle-led urban farming initiatives also ignite a sense of purpose for community outreach and engagement programmes. In line with Singapore’s goal to source 30% of its food needs locally by 2030, 400,000 free packets of seeds have been distributed to encourage backyard farming. Across the city state, these efforts follow the conversion of nine multi-storey car park rooftops into urban farms, each of which are used to grow vegetables and other crops, as well as for packing and storing produce.

“We hope to get our employees interested enough in urban farming... or to try their hand at growing small batches of crops at home,” says Shee Tse Koon, country head, DBS Singapore.

Shell

Haoma, Bangkok

Farming restaurants

While farm-to-table concepts have existed for some time, Covid-19 supply chain disruptions, combined with the burgeoning interest in urban farming, is inspiring restaurants to think and work differently. Now, they're sourcing closer to home by farming on their own premises.

Leading the movement is Haoma, Bangkok’s first fine dining and urban farm-to-table restaurant specialising in neo-Indian cuisine. Guided by the grow-to-give-back philosophy, the restaurant adopts a more sustainable and ethical zero-kilometre approach by sourcing its ingredients directly from the organic farm at the restaurant.

Haoma is also weaving a hyper-local provenance story into the customer experience by allowing them to experience its farm during their visits; its two-storey colonial structure has a large greenhouse wrapped around it. ‘The essence of [Haoma] is to fill the gap between the guest and nature, to complete the part that is missing,’ says chef Deepanker Khosla.

In Singapore, urban farming concepts that combine dining and retail are making urban farming more appealing and more accessible to local people. Noka, the country’s first Japanese farm-to-table restaurant, is supplied by the urban farm atop the Funan Mall. It’s the latest of 200 urban farms that Edible Garden City is running across the island.

Next-gen cultivators

With major concerns over its ageing population, Asia is also facing both a social and an agricultural conundrum: who will be tomorrow’s farmers?

In Indonesia, the country is forecast to lose all of its farmers by 2063 owing to young people's view of manual labour and the low wages associated with the sector, as well as climate issues. On a positive note, however, The Jakarta Post reports that younger generations of farming families are championing technological innovation and investment in digital agriculture, making the industry more attractive to young people across Asia.

Also tapping into youth mindsets, The Philippines’ Department of Agriculture (DA) has appointed James Reid, a popular 27-year-old actor, as its ambassador of food security. Reid is also venturing into urban farming through his own company, The Freshest. Elsewhere, the DA is working with delivery operators Grab and Lalamove on eKadiwa, the first government-led agriculture e-commerce platform that gives Filipinos direct access to farm produce.

Space-saving solutions are also emerging in densely packed Asian cities. The Millennial Filipino farmers behind Future Fresh have developed modular hydroponic Farm Boxes – 40-feet shipping containers that can grow fresh vegetable produce in any climate, all year round. Looking ahead, next-generation agri-tech companies such as Unfold – a recently formed venture between Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and Bayer – will drive vertical farming with a focus on enhancing yield and flavour in line with consumer preferences.

“Unfold will combine leading seed genetics with the best [agricultural technology] experts in order to dramatically advance productivity, flavour and other consumer preferences,” explains John Purcell, CEO, Unfold.

Lab Notes

  1. The impact of Covid-19 and Uprooted Diets on Asian food supply chains, combined with growing consumer awareness of self-sufficiency, is turning urban farming into a lifestyle movement across Asia
  2. Restaurants should consider how urban farming on-premise can both reduce food miles and – in the era of Pandemic Dining – bring new customer experiences and retail concepts to their space
  3. Engaging urban and rural youth in farming is a key challenge. For food and dining brands there is an opportunity to help future-proof agriculture by elevating the industry's appeal through innovations in digital agriculture and modern marketing

Copyrights of the article: The Future Laboratory, https://www.thefuturelaboratory.com/