Singapore, Part 1: Lim Chu Kang

Singapore takes its food seriously. Anywhere you go, you can find great food: noodles, curries, dumplings, and so on – all under the price of a Big Mac. Singaporeans enjoy their food to the extent that “Have you eaten?” is a common greeting.

Singapore is also a green city. Locals refer to it as a ‘city in a garden’, which is spot on. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, made greening Singapore a priority, to boost morale and improve quality of life. In doing so he set a trend which lead to the competitive greening of cities across Southeast Asia.

With a love of good food and an appreciation for gardening, how does a city-state like Singapore approach agriculture? Obviously, a lot is imported. But that isn’t so obvious as it seems. Singapore has quite a history when it comes to agricultural and livestock production. Back in 1965, 25% of Singapore’s land was agricultural. Singapore supplied 80% of its chicken, 100% of its eggs, and even exported pork.

That said – back then, Singapore’s population was only 1.2 million. Today it’s 5.5 million. Agricultural production wasn’t the most convenient use of land either. Due to the odour and water pollution, Singapore had to phase out pork production in the 1980s, for example.

Today, only 1% of Singapore’s land is agricultural. On the whole, over 90% of Singapore’s food is imported. However, they still produce a quarter of their egg consumption, and 13% of their leafy greens.

I am fortunate enough to be on an exchange in Singapore at the moment (with only one month to go!). This has given me the opportunity to explore some of the projects going on. There are plenty of cool projects going on, so this article is only the first in a series on Singapore. We will start with Lim Chu Kang, the classic place for agriculture in Singapore. So far I have cycled around there twice. It’s quite a place.

Ambience

This too is Singapore.

Lim Chu Kang is possibly the most rural place on mainland Singapore that isn’t a national park. The main road starts out as a six-lane motorway, but gradually thins out to become a simple two-laner. There wasn’t much traffic when I was there, on a Monday morning. Traffic consists of massive lorries, some trucks, military vehicles, and the occasional bus or taxi. Cycling there felt like sailing to the edge of the map.

Venture off too far, and you’ll fall off the edge!

There are military training areas there as well. There are scary signs warning you to keep out of the live firing areas. Many plots of land are walled-off and guarded by men in uniforms. At one point I saw two fighter jets shoot by.

The whole area felt a quite run-down and old school, especially by Singaporean standards. Some of the places were like junkyards, with old truck bodies lying around. There was an abandoned housing estate with a creepy playground. On the other hand, the place seems somewhat directed towards local tourists, who can visit some of the farms. Every Singaporean of my generation I have spoken to has been to Lim Chu Kang at one point for a field trip.

Farms

Enough with the creepy playgrounds and country lanes. What’s actually going on there? In terms of agriculture, three things: production, tourism, and research. Production includes leafy greens, chickens, fish, shellfish, ornamental plants (for the CBD), and frogs. Some of the farms are aimed at tourists, with brightly-painted signs welcoming you. The research institutes are associated with the government’s Agri-Food and Vetinerary Authority (AVA). They are mainly to do with chemistry and post-harvest technology.

Chew’s egg farms. Literally a kilometre of road with rows of these henhouses on each side. Their eggs can be found in supermarkets, though not all supermarkets.
A typical leafy greens farm. This kind of shading is quite common. The weather makes such a difference and it really goes to show in the agricultural practices, but that will be for another post.
Bollywood Veggies is a mixed organic farm. They have a restaurant for tourists and are a proud member of the Kranji Countryside Association.
A plot of land for ornamental plants. These look like they are for the cemeteries nearby, but many companies grow all sorts of plants to keep the rest of Singapore green.
The entrance to a fish farm. Later I found out that these were ornamental, but Lim Chu Kang produces a wide range of fish and shellfish for consumption. Some of it is even exported.
Jurong Frog Farm! Frogs are a delicacy here in Singapore.
The world-famous Sky Greens, not looking so green.. Multiple people have suggested they are not doing so well. I tried calling them for a visit, but they charge 500 Singapore dollars. A lecturer at my university had interviewed the company extensively and wrote a report on Sky Greens. Yet she couldn’t get Sky Greens to allow her students to visit without this hefty price either.

Closing thoughts

In conclusion, Lim Chu Kang is a peculiar part of Singapore. I would recommend visiting, if anything for the ambience. It looks like a lot of the production systems could do with an upgrade to boost Singapore’s agricultural efficiency. That said, the government is promoting locally produced food, and there are plenty of new projects. More on that in my next post, where we will hear the thoughts of a greenhouse grower in Lim Chu Kang.

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