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Commentary: Why does a better food production system matter? Well, it can help tackle mental stress too

In a time where life speeds by at a frenetic pace, superfoods like spinach and kale nourish the gut, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and impact the gut-brain axis, providing much needed benefits to mental wellbeing. 

Sustenir's indoor vertical farm growing superfoods such as kale, spinach and arugula.

Sustenir's indoor vertical farm growing superfoods such as kale, spinach and arugula.

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At a recent forum, Singapore launched the Steward Pillar under the Forward Singapore initiative, a national dialogue led by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on forging a new social compact for the country. 

During the session at the Partners of the Environment Forum, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu mentioned how we inherited Singapore in a good state due to the foresight and prudence of our past generations. 

With the baton squarely in our hands, she encouraged all stakeholders to ask ourselves what our generation should do to minimise the cost of climate change to future generations.   

WHY AGRICULTURE NEEDS TRANSFORMATION 

The agriculture industry as we know it faces two major issues:

  • Being a “too” industry 
  • Inefficiency in the value chain which generates waste  

With climate change, the weather is either too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry. According to the World Bank, climate change is felt in increasing temperatures, resulting in shifting agroecosystem boundaries, invasive crops and pests.  

Not only has output productivity declined over the year, but crop nutrition has also declined as a result of such conditions and the industry is increasingly over-working the land to diminishing returns.  

Internally, agriculture as we know it is inefficient: A report released by World Wildlife Fund-UK and Tesco in 2021 found that global food waste on farms amounted to 1.2 billion tonnes per year, approximately 15.3 per cent of the food produced globally.  

The waste begins at the first stage: On the farms themselves, when environmental factors cause crops to go to waste.

This carries on to storage problems, poor infrastructure, and even supermarkets and businesses have been found to play a visible and systematic role in the overproduction and food loss. 

While the agriculture industry wrestles with its issues, food insecurity looms larger and larger— the world will need to produce about 70 per cent more food by 2050 to feed an estimated nine billion people. 

Agriculture is currently one of the biggest emitters of carbon, generating up to 29 per cent of total greenhouse gases. 

That, coupled with the ongoing food waste that occurs, are extremely detrimental to the planet and its communities. 

The recent 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change featured louder voices from youth on their concerns and hopes, including delegates from Singapore actively seeking a seat at the table in the decision-making process. 

No generation may be more tuned in to the urgency of addressing climate action than our youth today, who actively seek knowledge whilst educating and inspiring others to do the same. 

Likewise, as the generation carrying the baton, we have a responsibility to ensure we hand the world over in better shape to our next generation.

FOOD IS A CONSUMER HEALTH STORY 

 

The food value chain deserves a reinvention, and growing at the heart of consumer demand is key.

Our journey to re-invent the food value chain also led us to learn about the positive role growers could have on all stakeholders.   

As cities strive to become more sustainable to tackle the climate crisis, companies have a bigger role to play beyond vertical farming. 

Farms do not merely produce food, but have a lot to give across all aspects of the urban economies we live and operate in. 

Opportunities and local jobs in this new sector are growing, but we must keep the vision in focus and strive to build momentum. 

Higher institutes of learning such as the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) have built fully automated facilities to train students in high-productivity urban farming. 

New courses are springing up dedicated to the technical, chemical and plant science aspects of growing a stable indoor food supply in the face of dwindling resources. 

This is impressive, but with technological progress outpacing education, many students find themselves requiring real-world experience to support their education in agri-tech. 

Growing is exciting, but youth must also keep in view why food is important beyond securing food resilience. 

WHEN LESS IS MORE 

Stress is the most prevalent illness we all face in the cities we live in, where a 2019 study by health service company Cigna found that 92 per cent of working Singaporean adults experienced stress. 

Other than a better workplace environment, we think that our diet could help alleviate this. 

The Health Promotion Board recommends two servings of vegetables (that’s about 200g of raw leafy greens daily), while the daily per capita consumption of leafy greens is 40g now. 

Getting fellow Singaporeans to consume five times more leafy greens may be a tall order. 

Enter superfoods, where “pound-for-pound” it is more nutrient dense in comparison to other vegetables. Kale and iceberg lettuce are both leafy greens, but Kale has more than eight times more vitamin A, C, K and 2.4 times more dietary fibre than iceberg lettuce. 

We are scratching the surface on the superpowers of superfoods, and youth may yet unlock innovations for what we eat tomorrow. 

If growers can produce more nutrient-dense crops, perhaps we could get the per capita consumption to 100g to achieve our daily needs instead of having to eat 200g.  

 

Through a strategic collaboration that was organised by ITE and unlocking the potential of our controlled environment technology, Sustenir has been able to grow our Toscano Kale to contain significantly more Gamma-Aminobutryic Acid (GABA).

In one bag of Toscano Kale, we pack 100mg of GABA that serves as the body’s traffic light system to reduce anxiety and promote feelings of calm.   

Every effort is put towards enabling consumers to live better in cities. 

In a time where life speeds by at a frenetic pace, superfoods like spinach and kale nourish the gut, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and impact the gut-brain axis, providing much needed benefits to mental wellbeing. 

There exists a saturation of mental health techniques that we are told will improve our wellness, but one can always rely on our roots: to lean upon the fundamental, simple resources that we have grown and consumed for generations, and generations to come. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jack Moy is chief executive officer of urban farm Sustenir and an elected management committee member of the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation (SAFEF).

Related topics

agriculture mental health

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