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Official launch of Singapore Agri-food Innovation Lab

Welcome remarks by

Professor Subra Suresh
President & Distinguished University Professor

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Official launch of Singapore Agri-food Innovation Lab

Nanyang Executive Centre Wednesday, 24 November 2021, 12:35pm


Mr. Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Trade and Industry,

Mr. Peter Ong, Chairman, ESG

Distinguished guests,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very warm welcome to Nanyang Technological University, and to the launch of Singapore Agri-food Innovation Lab, a partnership between NTU and Enterprise Singapore (ESG).

We live in a dense urban city here in Singapore with less than 1 per cent of land dedicated to agriculture. But in recent years, the country has sought to expand its capacity and food production, and aims to become Asia’s urban agri-food tech hub.

Over 20 per cent of global agri-commodity trade flows through Singapore, but the lack of self-sufficiency in food supply makes it very vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. The global pandemic has also enforced the need to improve food security, and the climate crisis makes it more pressing for countries around the world to make food security one of the top priorities.

Food produced in Singapore accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s needs. This has prompted the government to set an ambitious aim to raise locally-produced food to 30 per cent by 2030. To do this, the Singapore government has committed to invest heavily in research and development in AgriTech and high-productivity innovation – This provides the background for the launch today of SAIL, which will support Singapore’s goal to become a leading agri-food tech and innovation hub.

SAIL will focus on four key elements in the agri-food value chain: Sustainability, Automation and Digitalisation, Agri Inputs, as well as Agri-tech research and development. These require multi-disciplinary approaches. As a global leading university, with deep disciplinary research and education is well positioned to take up the challenge and contribute to national needs.

Together with the recently launched Future Ready Food Safety Hub at NTU – also known as FRESH – under the framework of Singapore Food Story, NTU will play an important role in helping to improve Singapore’s food security as well as Singapore’s position as a key trading and innovation hub for the agriculture and food sectors.

NTU’s work in food science and technology covers education, research, innovation and commercialisation. SAIL will be backed by staff from across the University’s schools and colleges. Our Nanyang Business School, for example, will offer expertise on information management and supply chain monitoring, as well as in helping agricultural firms consider consumer-related issues around food innovations. Similarly, NTU’s School of Computer Science and Engineering will provide valuable insights on the Internet of Things and AI technologies for automation and digitization, while the School of Biological Science and Food Science and Technology Programme will contribute to innovations for agri inputs such as bio-fertilisers and biopesticides.

Our R&D activities cover food technology production using cost-effective and novel ways for foods to be produced, including alternative protein sources and other cutting edge innovations. We are also finding sustainable ways to manage food waste, and creating biodegradable packaging, using state of the art tech from material science and engineering. Recently, NTU scientists found a way to use liquid extracted from okara or soy pulp to form cell-cultured meat in conjunction with animal cells. Another recent innovation is an antibacterial gel bandage made from cellulose from discarded durian husks.

Industry has taken notice of our work, and this is reflected in our strong industry engagement and the commercialisation of technology. 540 F&N, for example, today, more than 250 companies engage with NTU in various forms, including about ten corporate labs. F&N chose to open its first ever external innovation lab here at NTU in 2019. 

NTU has also been working with government agencies on the FoodInnovate initiative which aims to help local food companies. Through this initiative, we have helped local SMEs transform their businesses with the adoption of NTU food tech innovations. Among them include the probiotic ice cubes that are now sold in supermarkets, and the reusable antimicrobial masks that were distributed to all households in Singapore last year to help stem the spread of COVID-19. 

We are also excited to work with firms in the agri-food sector on sustainability issues. This is an important area for NTU. Just last month, we launched our Sustainability Manifesto that will guide the University’s actions over the next 15 years and solidify NTU’s position as a leader not just among academic institutions, but in the area of sustainability - to connect our education and research and innovation and ‘walking the talk’. The framework includes a pledge to promote sustainable technology solutions for food production and minimise food waste.

SAIL will be an ideal platform to connect companies with solution providers and create a vibrant agri-food ecosystem in Singapore and the region.

NTU Professor William Chen will serve as the inaugural Director of SAIL. He is also the Director of NTU’s Food Science and Technology (FST) programme. Professor Boh Wai Fong, Deputy Dean of the Nanyang Business School, will be the Co-Director of SAIL.

The launch of SAIL aligns well with our NTU 2025 strategic plan that supports high-impact interdisciplinary research while nurturing a strong network of global industry partnerships.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Minister Gan and all our guests for taking the time to be here today. My thanks go to the staff at ESG and the faculty and staff at NTU for their vision and exceptional hard work in making this happen.

We look forward to a successful partnership with ESG, and to the many valuable and exciting contributions that will surely emerge from setting SAIL today.

Thank you.