Farming fish in Singapore self-sufficiency drive
- 3 May 2010
- From the section Business
Floating 400 metres offshore from Singapore's residential suburb, lies a 38,000 square foot fish farm.
It is a wooden offshore platform - the type commonly used by farmers in South East Asia.
"We acquired this fish farm in September last year," says 35-year-old property developer Eric Cheng.
"When we bought it, we really did not know much about fishery."
Some may call it a risky move, especially as he has invested $700,000 (£458,00) in the project.
But he is a proud tech-savvy fish farmer - bringing in experts to educate him in how to make the business efficient.
"We changed all of the 120 fishnets then we then revamped the whole system with the latest IT technology to monitor the growth of fish."
Singapore currently produces less than 5% of the food it consumes.
And so the government wants to encourage entrepreneurs like Mr Cheng to venture into farming so that the country can be more self-sufficient.
Goals set out by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore include raising local production of fish to meet 15% of domestic demand from the current 4%.
Eggs and leafy vegetables are among other foods on its target list for production growth.
To meet these goals, the government launched a $3.5m Food Fund initiative in December, aimed "at strengthening our strategies of food diversification and local farming to ensure a resilient supply for food for Singapore".
It is an important lesson that the city-state learnt a few years ago.
Just before the financial crisis shook the world, it was facing a food crisis.
Prices of basic food rose by 60% while grain prices doubled between 2006 and 2008.
This prompted major food producers such as Thailand and Vietnam to restrict exports to ensure adequate domestic supplies.
And inevitably those restrictions pushed up the price of food further on the international market - reminding Singapore of how much it relied on imported food.
As the world emerges from the recession, food prices are on the rise again. Demand, particularly from China, is recovering fast.
And in the US, pork prices soared to a 14-year high in April. Beef prices also rose more than 20% this year.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) notes that rice and wheat prices in Asia are higher now than during the food crisis. They cost between 20% and 70% more in February than two years ago.
The FAO also predicts that prices will remain well above the long-term average throughout the decade.
It warns that world hunger is rising dramatically.
But rising food prices are good news for Mr Cheng.
"As an entrepreneur, I believe in high investment, high return," he says.
"In Singapore, if you want to get into the primary business, there are only a few industries that you can get into.
"You can get into vegetable or meat, but because of the land scarcity issue, and because we're surrounded by the sea, I strongly felt fishery was the best business to get into.
Mr Cheng focuses on groupers - a fish he says offers the best returns - importing them as babies from Indonesia and Malaysia for just over a dollar each.
He then grows them for 12 to 18 months before selling them for $15 per kg - about the weight of one fish".
"The growth rate of groupers is slower than the rest, which means you have to invest a lot more, so most farmers choose not to grow them," he says.
"The fish is high in demand, but there is less supply, so the prices will always be high. In 2008, it reached almost $20 per kilogram.
"I reckon the price will go higher because as Asians, as Chinese, we always believe that grouper is a lucky fish."