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  • Singapore has one of the highest population densities on the planet.

  • More than five million people crowd into this small wealthy island city.

  • Land here comes at a premium, forcing people to expand up rather than out.

  • And it's not just office towers and apartment complexes that are reaching skyward.

  • Singapore now has one of the world's first commercial vertical farms. It's called SkyGreens.

  • This is the framework. This is a greenhouse. 50 year old entrepreneur, Jack Ng, an engineer by training, is the farm's owner and designer.

  • Translucent structures, nearly four stories tall line the property.

  • On the inside automated towers of vegetables rotate like Ferris wheels in slow motion between a nutrient-infused bath below and the sun above.

  • Ng says each tower is powered by a gravity-fed water wheel.

  • It's an ancient technology with a modern twist.

  • Ng says one of the biggest benefits of this closed loop, hydraulic system is how little energy it consumes.

  • Electricity we use in Singapore it's three dollars per month for this whole tower.

  • That's three dollars a month to run this entire tower... or about the same amount of electricity used in single 60-watt lightbulb.

  • You can try the lettuce. OK it's fresh.

  • Eating local, freshly picked greens is a luxury in Singapore.

  • With just 250 acres of farmland left, the city grows only seven percent of the produce it consumes.

  • That may be an extreme case, but it represents a looming problem facing cities all over the world, says Columbia University ecologist, Dickson Despommier.

  • We're going to reach a tipping point very soon where traditional agriculture can no longer supply enough food for the people living on the planet.

  • He says producing enough food for the three and a half billion people living in cities today requires an amount of land twice the size of South America.

  • That would be ok if we could stabilize our population at 7 billion. But that's not going to happen.

  • Despommier believes that 80 percent of the world's population will be living in cities by 2050... making today's challenges seem trivial by comparison.

  • The question arises, can we supply enough food for everybody on the planet including a growing urban population.

  • And I think we can. And I think we can do it by empowering people in the cities to grow food right there.

  • SkyGreens' vertical farm offers one example of how that may be possible, not just technically but also economically.

  • The system is ten times more productive per square foot than conventional farming.

  • It also takes a lot less water, labor and chemical inputs.

  • Singapore is currently looking very much into urban production.

  • Doctor Lee Sing Kong directs Singapore's National Institute of Education.

  • I think eventually urban factories for vegetable production would take place in place of electronic factories in Singapore.

  • But Lee says visit any Singapore restaurant and you can see just how far the country is from being self-sufficient.

  • If you look at the plate of food on the table, say vegetables, it could come from China.

  • It could come from the neighboring countries of Indonesia or Malaysia.

  • Or it could come in terms of salad greens, as far off as the US and the European countries like Holland.

  • Maintaining that supply of food from so many foreign sources is a monumental task.

  • Every night hundreds of trucks enter Singapore from Malaysia and beyond, unloading their cargo of fruit and vegetables at this central wholesale market.

  • From here the food is loaded onto smaller trucks and delivered throughout the city before sunrise.

  • More than 90 percent of the food in Singapore's grocery stores like this one comes from foreign countries.

  • That makes local, urban produce like SkyGreens a premium novelty for customers.

  • But to some it's much more than that. It's an insurance policy.

  • Supermarkets buy food from dozens of other countries as a defense against climate-related disruptions in the global food chain.

  • But the National Institute of Education's Lee Sing Kong, says that even that may not be enough to guarantee a steady food supply in the future.

  • We do anticipate the need for our own production to a certain level of self-sufficiency.

  • I think the government has set a target -- initial target of 10% to 20% of our need and if we can achieve that I think there will be a great feat.

  • Singapore recently invested 20 million dollars in a fund to boost domestic food production through new farming technologies like SkyGreens.

  • But Lee says incentives alone aren't ENOUGH.

  • First, he says, high rise farming needs to be cost competitive.

  • Whatever we produce in Singapore must compete with the prices of vegetables coming in Singapore.

  • So that's why the government in Singapore is now encouraging and emphasizing models of urban farming that can really not just increase productivity but also lowering cost of production.

  • Skygreens owner Jack Ng says he's confident he can compete.

  • Three years into his experiment, he says his operating costs are only a quarter of what it would cost to run a conventional farm.

  • And since he's local, his transportation costs are also minimal, making his fresh lettuce and Chinese cabbage price-competitive with mass-produced, cheap imports.

  • But most importantly, Ng says they taste better.

  • He says the "same day" freshness of his greens is a real selling point.

  • My customer keep on asking us, can you produce more, can you supply more?

  • Ng has raised 28 million dollars in public and private money to more than quadruple his capacity over the next year and a half.

  • And in fast rising Singapore, that seems like a smart investment.

Singapore has one of the highest population densities on the planet.

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Singapore Is Pioneering Vertical-Farming Technology

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    阿多賓 posted on 2014/12/25
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