When you drive past farms at Lim Chu Kang or chance upon the multi-storey car park rooftop farm in Ang Mo Kio, have you ever thought how and why they ended up there? Meet Jonas Chua, whose team manages tenders of land or space for farming, helping farmers turn their proposals into reality.
Singapore is a small city-state with limited land that has many competing needs. As such, there’s a need to continually ensure that land and space set aside for farming is used productively.
This is where Jonas comes in.
“To maximise land usage, we have to properly spec out the criteria for the tender. One of the questions we often ask ourselves is what type of farm landscape do we want to see 10 or 20 years from now?”
Since 2016, Jonas has been involved in rolling land tenders for farming. Earlier this month, he was part of the team that launched nine sites at the rooftops of HDB multi-storey car parks (MSCP) for commercial urban farming.
Jonas’ role is best described as a collaborator cum facilitator. He works closely with many stakeholders, both external and internal.
They include colleagues from other departments such as those from food supply resilience and urban farming solutions, to spec out the tender.
Then, there are consultations with other government agencies to get their inputs on other requirements such as drainage systems, road works and height limits.
But Jonas’ most important ‘clients’ are the tenderers, who form the core of his work. As much as possible, he tries to facilitate their requests and for those who are awarded land, to help bring their proposals to fruition.
Four years into his job, Jonas had already witnessed a few firsts.
Since 2017, a new approach was used for farm land tenders in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah. For the first time, farm land was tendered using the fixed price tender method as well as the concept and price tender method. Both methods require bidders to submit proposals that outline farming methods that are innovative and maximises productivity.
“This approach meant that bidders compete on the quality of their proposals rather than price.”
The tender for MSCP rooftop sites was also ground-breaking as it was SFA’s first tender for such alternative spaces.
“The draw of farming in alternative spaces like MSCP rooftops within HDB estates is bringing food production closer to the community. This helps attune residents to our food security efforts, reduce carbon footprint and improve the produce’s freshness and quality.”
A big part of Jonas’ role requires him to process tender applications.
“We get to read all the different proposals and see first-hand the technology from prospective tenderers.
So, while we need to have a strategic view of the farm landscape in Singapore, we also need to be able to pick out ideas and proposals that push for sustainable and high-tech farming.”
As a small nation that imports over 90% of our food, the current Covid-19 situation has raised concerns about Singapore’s food security – are we importing too much? Do we grow our own food? How and where can we grow more food?
“Due to Covid-19, we see more people expressing their interest to grow food. They are not only looking to farm food, but also how it can be done in a sustainable and high-tech manner.
Take for example the recent MSCP tender. We are getting very good responses and seeing new entrants to the sector.”
The silver lining in this situation is a general heightened awareness on the importance of food security.
“Singaporeans are now more active in discussing and giving suggestions on enhancing our food supply resilience.”
Just like the evolving Covid-19 situation, adaptability is key for Jonas.
He had to do things a little differently for the recent MSCP tender launched during the Circuit Breaker period.
“Prospective tenderers usually want to take a look at the sites before bidding. But with Covid-19, we had to minimise unnecessary contact so we had to cancel SFA site visits and adapt. Instead, we added information like site plans and photographs from various angles in tender documents to help prospective tenderers visualise.
And because some may not be familiar with the tender process, we will typically conduct in-person tender briefings but these had to be adapted into online materials for their information.”
There’s a misconception that Singapore only started to take food security seriously due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Rome was not built in a day, and neither were Singapore’s strategies for food supply resilience. SFA has been planning for the long term and proactively taking action to safeguard our food supply.
For Jonas, his work is a decades-long journey. It starts before the tender launch and technically only ends after the lease is complete.
“Seeing a land tender through is somewhat like a triathlon – there are the planning, consultation and implementation stages, each with their own challenges.”
Jonas and his team know very well the value of perseverance in their line of work.
“Vegetables take weeks, even months to grow. Some farms take years to establish themselves.
But with perseverance and some patience, we will be able to see the fruits of our labour – from leasing the land to witnessing the farms’ first harvests.”
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© 2020 Singapore Food Agency
Last updated on Tuesday, April 14, 2020