Pushing The Frontiers Of Food Innovation (VIDEO)

Dr. Ralph Graichen, senior director of the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Care Cluster at A*STAR, Singapore, is spearheading initiatives to promote food innovation in Singapore.

AsianScientist (Jan. 30, 2020) – Calorie counting is often associated with diet plans for weight loss. However, on a global scale, scientists are warning that society is headed towards a shortfall in crop calories needed to feed a population of 10 billion people by 2050.

According to the World Resources Institute, under ‘business as usual’ growth in food production, there will be a 56 percent food gap between crop calories produced in 2010 and those needed in 2050. To close this gap with existing methods and technologies, millions more hectares of land needs to be committed to agricultural activities, and without more sustainable farming practices, the concomitant increase in greenhouse gas emissions is likely to worsen climate impacts.

The question, then, is whether we will be able to innovate ourselves out of this apparent catch-22 situation. Dr. Ralph Graichen, senior director of the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Care Cluster at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore, thinks it is possible.

Graichen leads a team that develops programs and platforms aimed at stimulating innovation in the food industry. Rather than just focus on the quantity of food production, the Cluster is also concerned with the quality, safety and sustainability of the food sector. Some of the projects it funds include the use of microbes and fungi to generate novel ingredients, flavors and fragrances in a resource-efficient way, without the associated damage to the environment.

“Singapore is primed for innovation in the food space,” Graichen said. “Here, we have the advantage of a diverse consumer base. Many of the ethnic groups that are represented in Asia—the Malays, Indians and Chinese—are of very high interest to the food industry. Most food products at the moment are developed for the rest of the world, so Singapore presents an opportunity for companies to build out their portfolio of food products for Asia.”

Commercial benefits aside, food security is another reason why the Singapore government is investing in food research and development. Singapore currently imports more than 90 percent of its food, which makes it particularly vulnerable to supply shocks around the world.

“Singapore aims to produce 30 percent of its local nutritional needs by 2030. It will be very interesting to see how Singapore can achieve local production of nutrition-rich products in an urban environment,” Graichen noted.

To help realize that goal, A*STAR has announced the funding and implementation of the new Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI), which will pull together A*STAR’s research capabilities in areas such as food structure engineering, biotechnology, agri-food technology and food safety. In doing so, SIFBI provides a single touchpoint for industry players who are keen to collaborate with A*STAR on food innovation.

Graichen further pointed out that researchers and companies should also be paying attention to the health consequences of food in the Asian context.

“For example, the phenotype of a diabetic is completely different in Asia compared to the west. So there is a need to look not just at the production of food itself, but also the health aspects associated with different types of food in this region,” Graichen said.

“I think that is where Singapore can differentiate itself from the rest of the world, and maybe even lead in terms of innovation,” he concluded.


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