In 2011, ORIGIN Environment Consultancy (OEC), a local small and medium-sized enterprise (SME), was starting to expand regionally and mooted the possibility of starting an agriculture subsidiary.
The idea seemed plausible as OEC’s key business, ORIGIN Exterminators (OEX), was providing pest management services. This gave them an edge in the agriculture industry as up to 50% of operating costs were due to pesticides and fertilisers.
OEC engaged Kainosis™ as consultants on an 18-month retainer contract. Kainosis™ investigated two key aspects:
- Applicability of high-technology agriculture to regional Bottom of Pyramid (BOP) markets, such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia
- Sustainability of an urban agriculture venture in Singapore’s high-cost environment
A key move that Kainosis™ made in joint partnership with OEC was to undertake a 6-month technology pilot test in Hwa Chong High School. Aquaponics was the chosen technology due to the following properties:
- It produces fish (valuable protein) and vegetables without soil
- It has high adaptability in most built-up environments, including areas with non-arable soil
- It provides a sustainable closed-loop system, where nutrients from the fish are immediately recycled and applied as high-yield crop fertiliser
In the first 3 months, 4 main prototypes were designed and built with multiple sub-variants in between. A small team of no more than 3 people handbuilt each variant, using only recycled and commonly available materials for BOP-market applicability.
The next 3 months focused on refining and stabilising the prototypes. The latest build contained the following notable features:
- Extremely low material and equipment costs
- High portability—the main structures could be flat-packed and reassembled by a 3-person team using only nuts and bolts
- The system could be assembled in just a few hours
- Able to supplement an average family’s dietary needs with fresh fish and vegetables
- Provides convenient and non-labour intensive waist-height work for planting, harvesting and pruning (suitable for the elderly)
- Self-sustaining outdoor system that could withstand Singapore’s tropical climate.
- Option of retrofitting with solar panels to create an off-grid solution
After the prototyping exercise, Hwa Chong High School benefitted from an in-house 15m by 8m sub-commercial sized aquaponics facility, which held over 50kg of Tilapia fish and three grow beds of 80m². It also doubled as an educational corner and showcase for students, staff and visitors.
Kainosis™ continued to operate and maintain the facility for the next 12 months as part of the feasibility assessment. This included diagnosing and troubleshooting unexpected challenge areas that were unique to the build and environment. Kainosis™ also took the initiative to teach the science of aquaponics and basic facility operations to a selected team of Hwa Chong High School students.
Additionally, a full business consult followed the prototyping phase. Tasked with starting a full-sized commercial aquaponics farms in Singapore, Kainosis™ sourced and negotiated for land, and corresponded with government agencies to acquire necessary permits*.
Kainosis™ produced the following deliverables for OEC:
- A 10-year business proposal complete with financial projections
- Procured a lease agreement for over 3 hectares of zoned agricultural land in Sungei Tengah
- A comprehensive suite of consultants necessary for operation (i.e. services of system and agriculture experts, both locally and regionally)
- Successfully negotiated for technology transfers, licensing, and key advisory functions for the entire agricultural chain
Put together, Kainosis™ presented its client with ready access to start a high-tech agriculture venture with regional impact, or even Singapore’s first urban organic integrated farm. The deliverables supported OEC in making a necessary analysis of its overall operations and business costings. At the end, OEC concluded that it needed to consolidate its businesses and streamline operations before embarking on the expansion.
*Permits were a particular challenge because of an archaic law that disallows the rearing of animals to be in the same zone as crops. It is a rule that still exists today.