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FOCUS 70: Accelerating Fast Growth In Food Tech Systems

Dr. Christine Pitt, co-founder of Singapore’s first agri-food tech accelerator program, GROW, shares her view on the evolving ecosystem of this new tech domain. 

 

There is a big spotlight on food and ag-tech. Why do you think that awareness is important?   

We now clearly understand that there is a combined problem of food security in developing countries, as well as the negative impact that food has on human population in developed countries. There is a paradox of having too much of the wrong thing at one end and the problems that it is causing, and then not having not enough of the right things. Overlaying that are the big issues of environmental sustainability, climate change and food waste.  

We really are facing some major challenges and we clearly need to think about how we can redesign the whole agri-food ecosystem in a way that creates greater connections between all the players whether it be commercial industry; big corporates; researchers; tech developers; startups; investors; accelerators; and government. 

 

What is the current climate of food-tech and ag-tech, particularly in Singapore? 

The climate for agtech and foodtech at the moment is extremely exciting as there is growing interest among investors; large companies and even governments. In particular, Singapore is rapidly becoming a regional hub for the ag and food tech community with the government being very proactive and supportive.  The recently announced “30 by 30” strategic vision aims to increase Singapore’s ability to produce 30% of the food that it needs by 2030 and this has created great opportunities for agrifood entrepreneurs and new ventures.

To achieve this objective, a number of key areas of focus have been identified in areas such as aquaculture, urban agriculture and alternative proteins – There is also a focus on building agrifood value chains that are relevant to, and consistent with, what is feasible for Singapore. To drive this initiative, we really do need ag-tech and food-tech startups to be attracted to Singapore, to see the opportunity here and to deploy their new innovations for the benefit of this region. I think startups are at the core of what is going to bring this change to the food sector. They are innovative and have a different mind-set; they are prepared to take things on and challenge the status quo. 

 

How are startups transforming the food-tech and ag-tech space? 

The thing about startups is they think global straightaway. They don’t see themselves as only small, local artisanal producers – they see themselves as being global in how they can have a big impact. Because of the methodologies they use and the way they think, startups are very connected to consumers in a personal way and they truly understand what their customers are looking and asking for. Big companies, on the other hand, are finding it quite difficult to do this-and as a result they are not moving fast enough and they are losing ground to these agile startups  It is pretty obvious that agri-food startup are going to play a big role in creating the future of food. 

 

What is the value proposition of food tech?   

One of the main areas that food tech can create new value, is to bring consumers and food producers closer together. If you can increase the transparency between consumers and producers and shorten the time it takes for consumer feedback to reach a producer, then you can start to make some real differences.  

Food tech and new digital platforms provide great opportunities to build trust based on provenance, traceability and authenticity. If you can create an informed marketplace, if you can help the marketplace ensure that food transactions are more ethical and informed because of the transparency, that is a successful model. The emergence of more ethically based food-system marketplaces helps consumers see more clearly where their  food comes from, and helps them to them make better decisions about what is good for their health and their families. 

 

What can we do at a grassroots level to support emerging startups? 

Emerging startups need a well functioning agrifood ecosystem if they are to thrive and prosper. We need to create support mechanisms that help startups to make the right connections so there is a mutual exchange of mindset, culture, speed, and different ways of thinking.  This is what GROW has set out to do in Singapore and the broader ASEAN region and we believe that together we have a chance to solve some of the really big challenges facing our food and agriculture system  

Interview with Dr. Christine Pitt, co-founder of Singapore’s first agri-food tech accelerator program, GROW, for FOCUS #70. To read more articles from this issue, download your digital copy here

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