From Singapore to Hong Kong, how urban farming can help tackle food waste — but is it enough?

SINGAPORE and HONG KONG: As an urban farmer, Andrew Tsui values his relationship with food. And he frets that many people of Hong Kong and Singapore, the 2 cities he grew up in, don’t. 

The downside, in accordance to the 43-year-old, is the “instant-noodle city lifestyle”.

“If we need something today … we can either use our smartphone (or) go downstairs. There’s always a convenience store,” he stated. “Food becomes a lifeless thing that’s being put on the shelf.

“And the moment we kind of productise food, it’s the start of the broken relationship.”

It is this “consumer mindset”, for one factor, that leads to over 3,600 tonnes of food — the load of about 250 double-decker buses — being thrown into Hong Kong’s landfills day by day.

READ: Why so much edible food is thrown away in Asia, and how to fix it

In cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, greater than half of food wastage occurs on the retail and client stage.

Hong Kong residents generate more food waste than any other category of municipal solid waste.

Hong Kong residents generate extra food waste than some other class of municipal strong waste.

Ever tossed half-eaten food into the bin? Or caught some greens within the fridge and forgot about them till that they had wilted, solely to shrug it off and purchase new provisions?

Singaporean Amanda Woon remembers one time she was together with her boyfriend at a grocery store. “I dropped this apple … and he was like, ‘(It’s) spoilt already, don’t buy,’” recounted the 24-year-old.

Changing these mindsets to rebuild metropolis dwellers’ relationship with food is one of many options that Andrew and others like him have been pursuing for a while. And they’re doing it by bringing food manufacturing to town.

The urban farming motion is not solely catching on, but additionally addressing a number of points on the coronary heart of food wastage, CNA Insider finds out.

WATCH: Can urban farming repair our damaged relationship with food? (17:00)


While food loss occurs at each stage of the availability chain, attitudes in industrialised international locations usually trigger wastage at eating tables.

“Perhaps one of the most important reasons for food waste at the consumption level in rich countries is that people simply can afford to waste food,” acknowledged a report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.

There is additionally a hazard of kids rising up “largely desensitised to the issue of food waste”, warned Singapore University of Social Sciences senior lecturer and psychologist Tania Nagpaul.

“Generational amnesia is something that scientists are talking about a lot these days … Younger generations are completely oblivious to what life was perhaps 20 years before they were born.”

Tania Nagpaul lectures at the S R Nathan School of Human Development, SUSS.

Tania Nagpaul lectures on the college’s S R Nathan School of Human Development.

In the context of food, affordability is not the one salient truth — with food so conveniently at hand, individuals don’t want to take into consideration how it is truly grown, even animals.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the way supermarkets portray food becomes the norm for our younger generations because this is what chicken means to them, and they’ve not really ever seen a live chicken,” stated Nagpaul.

In brief, the trouble and assets wanted in food manufacturing could also be past their creativeness, for instance the time it takes to develop potatoes (up to 120 days) and the quantity of water to produce a kilogramme of apples (822 litres).

Is there a manner, nevertheless, for issues like that to come into individuals’s thoughts, say, after they see a bruised apple? Michelle Hong thinks so.

How do you feel about this bruised apple?

How do you’re feeling about this apple?

“The main solution that I could see was to bring the farms into the city rather than bringing the people into the farms out there,” stated the Singaporean co-founder of Hong Kong social enterprise Rooftop Republic.

“The idea for us when we first started out … was to make farming very commonplace.”

Since 2015, Rooftop Republic has been serving to organisations to design and run their very own urban farms on prime of their workplace buildings, hoping to expose metropolis people to the fundamentals of food manufacturing.

The distinction that makes, she stated, is “you’re connected to food on a daily basis, in proximity to where you live, where you work and where you play”.

One of the gardens in Hong Kong started by Rooftop Republic.

One of the gardens began by Rooftop Republic.

And it matches into the sustainability practices of an increasing number of firms these days, like developer Sino Group, which is integrating urban farming throughout its property portfolio.

“We treasure the food and the produce that we can harvest together,” stated the corporate’s senior sustainability supervisor, Melanie Kwok.

“In a city area like this, we can actually set aside our worries … and just enjoy nourishing the mind and body.”

Over in Singapore, Edible Garden City is on an identical mission, serving to to arrange farms in colleges, malls and workplace buildings since 2012. Both Rooftop Republic and Edible Garden City are DBS Foundation grant winners.

 Jurong Secondary School students' edible garden, completed with help from Edible Garden City.

Jurong Secondary School college students’ edible backyard, accomplished with help from Edible Garden City.

“We want people to experience the entire process of growing their own food and … how hard it is,” stated Bjorn Low, the social enterprise’s 39-year-old co-founder.

“It’s that individual journey they have to go through to make them appreciate food a little more.”


There is additionally a motion of dwelling growers increase in Singapore, going by the urban farming teams sprouting online, with members starting from learners to superior gardeners and residing even in small flats.

Woon, for instance, began rising pak choi and kangkong (water spinach) on her balcony in September.

Amanda Woon started growing pak choi and kangkong (water spinach) on her balcony in September.

Amanda Woon.

“I wanted to engage with the process of growing (food) so that I could understand what it feels like, what it means to produce my own food and to allow that to feed my family,” she stated.

But her first few makes an attempt didn’t go easily. “Every single morning, I’d wake up and (be) like, ‘Why aren’t you sprouting yet?’” she recalled. “You should be germinating in three days, and why aren’t you doing that?”

After having to wait, her seedlings turned out limp. “I got very anxious. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t fail,’” she stated.

I believe I put extra effort into rising kangkong and bok choy than I did for my A ranges.

When she lastly acquired to see her vegetation develop from “this small dot” into luscious greens, she was “wowed”.

Singaporean Amanda Woon bringing her fresh green growths out to her balcony.

Bringing her growths out to her balcony.

But did rising her personal food actually make her waste much less? “When I was younger, I didn’t eat a lot of stems … Now I’m like, ‘You know what? Just eat it,” she cited.

“I appreciate what I’m eating and therefore I just eat the bulk of it as much as I can.”

Another dwelling grower, Gerald Foo, realised that along with his personal greens, fruits and herbs inside attain, he buys much less within the grocery store and thus wastes much less.

“In the past, when I wanted to cook a pasta or something, and I needed … basil or parsley, (I’d) pop down to the shops. And you know you’ve got to buy a whole packet,” stated the 44-year-old.

“The rest (of the packet) ends up going to waste, whereas now I grow my own stuff … I just go and cut up (what’s needed).”

Home grower Gerald Foo, 44, snipping his veg. He buys less in the supermarket now, and wastes less.

Gerald Foo snipping his veg.

It makes his household extra conscious of their “impact on nature”, just like the carbon miles of their food purchases.

“We’d think about … the meals that we’re going to cook in the next two or three days. And what do we need to make those meals? And then we’d buy just those things,” he added.

Having turn into aware of each little bit of waste they generate at dwelling since they began rising food, each Woon and Foo are composting their scraps.

“We most recently thought about food waste as … the ends of our vegetables (that we cut off). That’s also food, and it’s now being used productively,” stated Foo. “It becomes fertiliser for the next thing that I want to grow.”

This container usually fills after a couple of days and is emptied out into Gerald Foo's compost bin

This container normally fills after a few days and is emptied out into Foo’s compost bin.

Woon even has about 100 worms to produce vermicompost. “My parents also started saving their food peels for my worms,” she stated proudly. “They’re aware that this is important for growing.

“Food isn’t a linear process … There’s a way of making things exist in a more circular manner.”


Urban farming is not nearly altering the way in which metropolis people worth food, nevertheless; it has a hand in decreasing international food wastage as a result of “it offers an alternative supply chain”, stated food waste skilled Daisy Tam.

Singapore and Hong Kong presently import greater than 90 per cent of their food, and this provide chain is flawed.

READ: Why our food supply chain is flawed, and these champions’ efforts to stop the waste

“In the global food system, food loss and food waste happen at every step of the way, from the field — from production — to distribution to storage,” famous Tam, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

“Because the supply chain is so long, we’re inevitably participating in a very wasteful system. So shortening the supply chain is one way of not participating in that.”

Food waste expert Daisy Tam is an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Daisy Tam.

Notably, urban farming is one of many areas in Singapore’s Green Plan — unveiled final month — the place there will likely be initiatives to strengthen the Republic as a location for international and native firms to develop new sustainability options.

READ: Singapore unveils Green Plan 2030, outlines green targets for next 10 years

Growing the demand for native edible vegetation could have an element to play in that effort.

Some of the greens Singaporeans like to eat, resembling choi sum, pak choi and kailan, “aren’t climatically suited for Singapore”, identified Low. “They’re nicer to grow in colder climates.”

Edible Garden City executive director Bjorn Low with a sayur manis plant, also known as mani cai.

Bjorn Low with a sayur manis plant. It is also called mani cai.

On the opposite hand, food resembling sayur manisulam raja (a herb) and cat’s whiskers (one other herb) develop nicely on the island. “(It’s) so much more ecological to grow those because they’re perennials — they don’t need re-seeding,” he stated.

Paying extra consideration to long-neglected native species might then be a manner to exchange extra imports. The concept is to “create a more productive landscape” past simply urban farms.

“Instead of growing an ornamental tree, perhaps we could be growing a food-producing tree,” he urged. “Instead of having a green plot ratio, could we come up with a nutritional index?

So if we plant one moringa tree (horseradish tree), how much protein is that producing for the community?

There are already more than 1,600 community gardens across Singapore, so he has hopes of seeing increased decentralisation in the food system. “Perhaps more community farms can also be their (supermarkets’ and wet markets’) source of supply,” he added.

A community garden at Our Tampines Hub in Singapore. Tony Tan is the venue manager.

A neighborhood backyard at Our Tampines Hub. Tony Tan is the venue supervisor.

These are alternatives not to be sniffed at in cities like Singapore or Hong Kong, believes Tsui — not when the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that relying “so heavily” on the “global industrial food chain” can depart populations susceptible to disruptions.

“There are a lot of other untapped spaces, like car parks, like playgrounds, like other open areas,” stated the chief government officer of Rooftop Republic and likewise Hong’s husband.

“We truly believe that (by) tapping into those untapped resources … we’re able to actualise and implement a local, decentralised food system.”

So far, the social enterprise has transformed 65 rooftop areas into productive farms spanning 70,000 sq. ft, and labored with shoppers together with motels and eating places. The potential cultivable house on Hong Kong’s rooftops, nevertheless, soars to six million sq. metres.

One of Rooftop Republic's urban farms in the foreground, against a backdrop of soaring opportunities

One of Rooftop Republic’s urban farms within the foreground, in opposition to a backdrop of hovering alternatives.

“That area is equivalent to the land that’s currently being farmed in Hong Kong,” famous Hong. “Essentially, if we were to convert all the rooftops into farms, we’d be doubling the amount of food that Hong Kong is producing.”


To get extra individuals concerned and create extra expertise for future urban farms, the Rooftop Republic Academy was began in 2019 with help from the DBS Foundation. It presents workshops for learners in addition to skilled vocational programs.

“The idea behind the academy is … for city dwellers from all walks of life to get their foot in the door,” stated Rooftop Republic co-founder Pol Fabrega, 56.

Looking at how far they’ve taken urban farming, Hong stated the co-founders are “very encouraged”.

“I quit my job (in communications and advertising) to start Rooftop Republic. And I was like, ‘Oh dear, after … one year, am I going to (have to) eat my own veggies to survive?’” she recalled with fun.

Michelle Hong quit her job in communications and advertising to help start Rooftop Republic.

Michelle Hong.

Like her, Low give up the promoting business when he grew to become an urban farmer. At this level, he is additionally striving to “build capacity within local people and local spaces”, to make sure that there is “knowledge”, “infrastructure” and “excitement”.

“So when there’s a time of need, everyone can go out and participate in that process. Everyone will have some knowledge of sowing a seed and growing food,” he stated.

It could take “some time to unlock it”, thinks Nagpaul, but she doesn’t doubt that urban farming “has a lot of potential” to create a ripple impact.

It helps that rising food at dwelling “doesn’t cost much”, stated Woon, who really helpful beginning with kangkong to these pondering of giving it a shot.

“Even if you fail … it’s a matter of just being okay with failure,” she added. “That was also something that I learned.”

Singaporean home gardener Amanda Woon has about 100 worms to produce vermicompost.

Woon’s vermicompost-producing worms.

Still, not everyone will get to develop their very own food at dwelling. And one group in Taiwan has discovered one other manner to join customers straight with their food provide, by letting them share within the experiences of farmers.

On the Buy Directly From Farmers e-commerce platform, customers can undertake a plot of land and watch, in actual time, as farmers battle with the weather to plant and harvest crops.

“You’d be able to better understand the difficulties,” stated the social enterprise’s founder, King Hsin I. “Then (consumers) would cherish their food better. When they make their choices, they won’t choose perfectly round pears or perfectly red apples.”

Also, whereas procuring on the location, they can get to know the growers and put a face to the food they purchase.

On the Buy Directly From Farmers e-commerce site, consumers can adopt farmland like this in Taiwan.

One of the farms in Taiwan.

Buy Directly From Farmers goes as far as to advise customers that each little bit of their vegetable or fruit, proper down to its pores and skin, can be eaten.

For instance, one can fry eggs with dragon fruit peel or cornsilk, and “it’s delicious”, cited King. “Then you’d reduce a lot of food waste — you make good use of the food that’s grown … for months.”

Last yr, when the social enterprise launched food bins that included seemingly unusable merchandise, DBS was “very supportive” in shopping for bins, she added.

Consumers, too, can help enterprises like this which might be preventing in opposition to food wastage. They can additionally store in a different way by shopping for solely the groceries they want and never throw away food that is barely blemished or shut to expiry.

Consumers in Taiwan shopping differently with the help of Buy Directly From Farmers.

Consumers in Taiwan procuring in a different way with the help of Buy Directly From Farmers.

It appears such a giant, international downside, but the person or lady on the street can make a distinction.

“Whether (by) exercising our consumer rights and requesting different practices (in) the shops, to voting with your dollar and buying in different places … to lobbying or advocating different practices, these are all ways in which we can participate,” stated Tam.

This article by CNA Insider was achieved in collaboration with DBS. To study extra about why we want to work collectively in direction of zero food waste and how DBS is elevating consciousness on this concern, click here.


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