Exclusive: Can urban farming help combat climate change? DiSTAP director says 'Yes'


There is no doubt that the booming population is responsible for the global atmospheric changes as well as food shortages, which will be a huge issue in the future. Urban farming could be the solution to food production issues.

Recently Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT's research enterprise in Singapore have developed a new technology that can accelerate the genetic engineering of microbes, which can be used to manufacture chemicals meant for urban farming.

It should be mentioned that Singapore is aiming to be region's urban agriculture technology hub, with over $90 million worth investments into early-stage tech start-ups with food and agri-tech solutions, to boost the agri-tech sector.

To seek answers regarding the emerging technology for the urban farming, IBTimes Singapore has reached out to Dr Gajendra Pratap Singh, who is the Scientific Director of the SMART Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP), which aims to revolutionize how food is produced to meet the demands of a growing population in an increasingly resource-constraint world.

Dr Gajendra Pratap Singh
Dr Gajendra Pratap Singh

He said that it can be expected that as the population grows, by 2050 each farmer will need to feed more than 265 people and it is only possible with precision agriculture, which "can be described as the third great revolution of modern agriculture."

"For Singapore and urban centres which lack traditional agricultural resources, precision agriculture is the only way to get self-sufficient in growing food and safeguard food supplies for its population," he said.

When Dr Singh was asked about the potential of the urban farming to change the agricultural scenario, he said that it will not only enhance the aesthetics of the property but also protect against global warming. These ideas are being increasingly taken up in Singapore and have the potential to change the agricultural landscape.

DiSTAP scientific director mentioned a few innovative technologies which are currently in use that are needed in urban farming, such as remote sensing, satellite-based navigation, use of unmanned aerial vehicles, big data and analytics as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

As per Dr Singh, the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors is leading to the Internet of Plants (IoP) in an urban farm. For future needs, it will be important to be able to detect plant stress at an early stage so that farmers can intervene at the right time to save crops and increase productivity.

He explained that SMART DiSTAP is developing cutting edge photonic and nanosensing technologies to measure hormones and secondary metabolites in plants in real-time which will increase the productivity of urban farms.

In addition, he stated that "DiSTAP is leveraging its expertise in metabolic engineering to develop new technology for making food, feed, flavours and fragrances. This involves the development of technology for synthesising plant proteins or alternate proteins and high-value nutrients."

He believes that providing high-quality education in the field and promote awareness is very important in terms of improving farming culture in the country and how students can view urban farming as a promising career.

"DiSTAP is planning to work together with local educational institutions and deliver world-class educational material in this regard," he said while pondering their future plans which include the development of next-generation cutting edge technology for precision agriculture and imparting world-class training and education in collaboration with local educational institutions.