Pak choy, Brazilian spinach, and sweet potato leaves – these were among the fresh greens that Malaysians began cultivating in their homes during the Malaysian Movement Control Order (MCO), as urban farming grew in popularity.
Urban farming presents an attractive and sustainable form of ensuring food security, with more than half of the world’s population currently dwelling in cities, and the urban population expected to reach 6.5 billion by 2050.
In line with Sunway City’s vision to be a ‘Living Lab’ where ideas are generated to address the challenges facing humanity, Sunway Group launched Sunway XFarms, an urban farm innovation hub in October.
The initiative is also aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Two – which is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, as well as Goal 12 – which is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Led by Sunway iLabs, Sunway XFarms is based in Sunway City Kuala Lumpur, and serves as a skills-building hub for urban farming professionals, tech companies, researchers, as well as young talent to collaborate and create transformative solutions focused on food and agriculture technology (Agri-foodtech).
XFarms is one of the components under Sunway FutureX, which includes FutureX Talent, a research and development centre, and FutureX Campus, a training and collaborative space. Coding school 42KL is the flagship initiative under FutureX Talent.
Among the features of XFarms are an outdoor hydroponic greenhouse, an indoor vertical farm and two aquaponic farms.
Fresh Greens Closer to Home
“Urban farming does not replace traditional farming but complements it,” said Sunway Group chief innovation officer and Sunway iLabs director Matthijs van Leeuwen.
“With the average age of traditional farmers ranging between the 50s and 60s, it is frightening to rely solely on this aging generation. Technology has excited the younger generation to go into farming so we’re giving them access to a pilot farm, funding, and markets,” said van Leeuwen.
Sunway XFarms has been set up with funding and talent provided by Sunway Property and Sunway Education Group respectively.
“Sunway Property is looking at potential spaces around their development projects to set up urban farm plots. We are also in talks with Sunway City Iskandar Puteri and Sunway Penang about urban farming – it is also a great way to bring people in the community together,” said van Leeuwen.
Recently, Sunway XFarms teamed up with Sunway Property to launch its Growner (Growing and Owning) model for individuals who want to grow their own fresh produce but lack the space and time to manage it.
“We can give you a small farm plot, provide the seeds and gardening material, and we will manage it for you. You can then pick up your greens or have it delivered to you weekly,” he said.
The Growner initiative aims to shorten the supply chain of traditional agriculture farming by bringing the farm within a 5km vicinity of homeowners.
Locally grown fresh produce is not only fresher and healthier but it helps contribute to food security by reducing reliance on imported goods and global supply chains.
Tech for Smart Farming
With technology such as Internet of Things (IoT), where devices are interconnected to one another via the Internet), Sunway XFarms is the ideal testing ground for agritech.
IoT not only allows one to adjust the parameters of the greenhouse in real-time, but this process can be automated and done remotely, reducing the need for manual labour.
Imaging technology using cameras means that one can zoom into each plant to assess its physical condition and health so the farmer can take immediate action to treat it. Real-time visual impressions of the farm make for more efficient plant management, he said.
Employing hydroponics or water-based farming uses 90% less water, generates 30% to 40% higher yield per square feet and does not require pesticides or herbicides.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, up to 33% of all food harvested globally is wasted. Sunway XFarms hopes to address this with precision farming using IoT and imaging technology.
“With real-time, accurate market data, we are able to control what we are growing, especially since the plants are hydroponic and not soil based. We can produce exactly what the market needs and cut wastage,” said van Leeuwen.
“Urban population expected to reach 6.5 billion by 2050”
If urban farming is to expand exponentially in Malaysia, the government would do well to learn from Singapore’s ‘30 by 30’ initiative, which aims to locally produce 30% of the country’s domestic food consumption by 2030, said van Leeuwen.
“There are no specific venture capital or funds for entrepreneurs here to invest into urban farming. Singapore has clear programmes to help urban farmers and increase the 10% domestic food production to 30% in 10 years’ time,” he said.
Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator Programme, which was launched in July, helps bridge the funding gap by providing RM100,000 in seed funding, mentorship and market access to Sunway City’s Six ‘Living Lab’ verticals – one of which is Agri-foodtech.
This article first appeared in Berita Sunway Issue 71