Insights + interviews

Agrivo International, Agriculture and Singapore

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In 2016, Dato’ Joel Low, former Les Amis Sommelier-turned-entrepreneur, founded an agriculture business company named Agrivo International Limited. He believes that Singapore as a land scarce and import dependent country, has to move to the forefront of high-productivity sustainable farming.

Since its founding, Agrivo has successfully invested and established two core businesses in its portfolio, Frontier Agrotech and Agrivo Mycosciences, and aims to be an incubator and accelerator for Agriculture technologies and businesses in Singapore.

We speak with Dato’ Joel about the agriculture business, challenges and rewards in and for Singapore. 

The Active Age (AA): Why is Singapore the ideal place to set up an agriculture business?

Dato’ Joel Low (JL): The local agriculture sector remains an important pillar of Singapore’s strategy to safeguarding its food security. With this in mind, the Singapore Government has taken steps to provide the necessary funding and support to develop the agriculture sector in Singapore. Recently, the Government announced its plan to transform the farming sector in Singapore. Key aspects of the plan included utilising technology such as vertical farming, climate-controlled systems and robotics etc. to overcome land constraints as well as developing a generation of “agri-specialists”. These developments highlight the Government’s commitment to ensuring the continued growth of the agriculture sector in Singapore.

With various Government initiatives and support, Singapore is an ideal place to set up an agriculture business. Moreover, due to Singapore’s strategic geographical location, the transport routes linking our nation with the region and vice versa, are vital in ensuring the agricultural produce do not perish while in transit to their destination. As such, this results in substantial costs savings in the long term.

AA: What are the key components that one has to consider when setting up an agriculture business?

JL: Agriculture is a capital intensive investment, setting up an agriculture business requires both funding as well as skilled workforce
Key components that are important include access to water, necessary technology and funding.

Water is a necessity for the growth and sustenance of every living organism. This applies to farming and agriculture. Without access to a clean and constant water supply, it can be challenging for the crops to grow and achieve productive yields. In view of the land-scarce environment that we live in, technology has demonstrated its potential to help overcome the constraints posed by a shortage of land.

At Agrivo International, it is our practice to adopt and incorporate the latest technology into our agriculture business. This involves the transition to vertical farming. In addition, crop yields can be expanded by utilising advancements in technology to regulate and tailor the necessary nutrients for specific crops. This ensures maximum output for each yield.

Funding is of paramount importance when setting up an agriculture business. Securing adequate funding is an important factor when determining the success of the business. Within the agriculture sector, access to funds allows us to plan our company’s strategy as well as provides us with the ability to invest in the latest technology to maximise output.

AA: What are they key challenges in the agriculture business industry in Singapore and in Asia?

JL: Agricultural technologies have not taken off in Singapore due to the high costs involved, lack of financing and limited farm tenures. As production capabilities are linked to business prospects, these issues must be resolved in order for the widespread adoption of technologies across the agriculture sector in Singapore.

The agriculture business within the region has been affected by adverse weather conditions stemming in part from climate change. While this is not a new issue, the warmer global temperatures is having an increasingly negative effect on crop yields.

Moreover, it must be said that working in the agriculture industry does not offer a glamorous and enticing prospect. Instead, working in the agriculture sector involves long hours and back-breaking work.

While the integration of technology with farming has somewhat abated the impact of manpower shortage within the industry, a greater number of individuals who are passionate about pursuing agriculture are needed to help Singapore achieve its goal of sustainability.

AA: What are some insights on the current trends and how Singapore can one day become a completely sustainable nation?

JL: From my experience and interactions with various industry stakeholders, Singapore is well-primed and on its way to achieving its goal of being a sustainable nation.Research and development continues to play a fundamental role in unearthing and developing the latest best practices for the industry.

As the prices of food continue to increase, being self-sufficient takes on an increased significance.

Moreover, identifying and grooming talents from within the industry will continue to serve as an important aspect for growing the agriculture sector one step at a time. Skilled workers would be needed to be roped in to support this effort to achieve the goal of sustainability.

Due to the lack of land, Singapore should also consider doing high-rise agriculture projects with the use of technology to better facilitate its self-sufficiency.

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