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Journeys of Resilient Companies: Sustenir Group, an Urban Farm Rooted in Singapore

The urban farm, Sustenir Group, contributes to Singapore’s aim to produce 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030. The agritech sector currently employs 2,000 workers, and that figure is expected to grow with support from Workforce Singapore’s (WSG) Career Conversion Programme (CCP). Find out what awaits the agritech sector and Sustenir Group. 

To 34-year-old Jack Moy, joining Sustenir Group was a learning journey. “I love open canvasses.” There is passion in his voice and purpose in the message that he delivers when talking to anyone. “We want to inspire consumers to eat better but of course we never lose sight of our roots of being a great grower as well.” 

Jack knows the next phase for the company is crucial. When he joined Sustenir Group, he thought to himself that it was a worthwhile move on many levels. “When I joined in 2017, it was clear that Sustenir Group was a thought leader in how businesses can not only benefit the bottom line but communities as well. We are driven by our purpose of improving health spans of consumers in the cities we’re in.” 

The Agri-Food sector is in its nascent growth stage with a target of meeting 30% of our nutritional needs locally by 2030, oft referred to as the ”30 by 30” goal. Achieving food security is an important component of the plan. However, when the pandemic started, other challenges surfaced. There were supply chain disruptions and the ability to satisfy consumers who now take a greater interest in health matters, such as reading food labels with care. With these considerations in mind, Jack always brings along three important perspectives to decision-making. “As a consumer, I understand firsthand what I look for in products; our consumer research also shows clearly what consumers are searching for and that points us to safe, traceable food that is also nutritious. Representing the industry and the business, I’m able to give voice to these consumer demands and build the necessary channels to bring 100% clean, pesticide-free leafy greens to more in our community.”

The right people at the right time

From the start of the pandemic, what was paramount for Sustenir Group was the safety of staff and their family, and yet a farm needed its staff onsite to harvest the produce. Careful team rotations and safe distancing measures were put in place. Supply chain challenges confronted Singapore; panic buying was happening as well during the circuit breaker period. The company saw an opportunity and set up yet another vertical farm increasing its production to 250 tons of produce last year with 60% of that coming from the new facility. To run that new facility, Sustenir Group brought in as many as 30 new headcounts. 

WSG, Singapore Food Agency and Republic Polytechnic combined efforts to get more talents for the industry. The lack of a talent pool with relevant experience has been an issue, Jack says, though many people have been inspired by a commitment to food security to take the plunge in joining a new sector. “As a start-up in a new industry, we did not always have the luxury of experienced individuals; what we did have was a spirit of innovation and passion for plants. We invested in robust talent training and development, and successfully nurtured leaders in our farms today who had no prior experience in agritech. The CCP is additionally helpful in bringing attention to vertical farming as a viable career for many who are yet to be convinced.” 

The aim is to eventually have the team learn from each other and evolve the processes and know-how of the industry. Jack points out, while some industries are seeing massive changes, as an employer, it is his job to value the new talents and set them up for success. 

Success, growth and expansion

While the architecture of the farm is a plug and play system that can easily be moved to another city, the processes of the hydroponics farm that uses no pesticides is a different ball game altogether. Sustenir Group has patented its architecture and its grow systems. Food safety is core to the company’s products, and as one of the world’s first ISO22000 certified vertical farm, they are focused on creating repeatable processes as they scale. 

Jack’s mantra is that on top of processes, people are a very important part. “Technology is an enabler, but not necessarily the only solution. We are driven by the concept of 1% improvement everyday which sees us continuously improving as the business grows, and that comes from developing talent.” 

Sustenir Group is focused on deepening their presence in existing markets, especially with Singapore’s aim to achieve the “30 by 30” goal. Sustenir Group does have its sights on 2 more cities around Southeast Asia and North Asia. The start-up more than doubled its business last year and the hope is that the next decade will bring a healthy doubling of its current revenue. 

The Singaporean urban farmer

It isn’t often one gets to meet an urban farmer in Singapore. Chats with Jack will show you that Sustenir Group is both a cause and a company to him. There is a personal dimension to his journey in the company. He met his wife when they both started working there. He refers to her as the ultimate ‘supermum’ who happens to be the real plant expert having studied plant biotechnology in school. His 20-month-old daughter, Jade, is the real boss! As a parting shot, Jack says, “Jade has the tenacity to become an urban farmer in the future when farming becomes mainstream in Singapore.”


FACTBOX

WSG’s CCP for Agritech Specialist

The CCP for Agritech Specialist aims to help mid-career Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMET) jobseekers reskill with the necessary competencies to embark on a career conversion into the agritech sector, which has exciting job opportunities such as Farm Manager/Engineer/Technologist, Produce Specialist and Agronomist. Key job functions as an Agritech Specialist may include, but are not limited to:

  • Lead a team of farm technicians to achieve target yield and output
  • Produce production report and yield estimation on a timely basis for supply management of produce
  • Develop documentation of operation procedure and ensure quality standards
  • Conduct Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) induction/ refresher and other quality-related to operations staff
  • Assist operations in problem-solving and execute improvement initiatives
  • Perform GAP sustainable farming practices
  • Conduct internal audit and attend quality audit

Find more jobs like these at
MyCareersFuture Job Portal