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Urban Farming: A yield of lower food mileage at a higher cost

20 December 2022 – Best view with desktop


Sustainability: A back-to-basics revisit of Water Security, Food Security and Waste Management

In a recent event organised by the World Bank Group, The Global Green Finance Leadership Program (GFLP) 2022 on 29 Nov 2022, not only launched the Report Launch: Unleashing Sustainable Finance in South-East Asia but up the ante bringing delegates and visitors for site visits namely Solid Waste Management (i.e. Cenviro Sdn Bhd), Water Treatment Plant (i.e. Loji Rawatan Air (LRA) Sungai Semenyih) and Urban Farming (i.e. Sunway FutureX Farm). Aleevar's team had the privilege to visit these facilities and to share our site visit experience.


Could urban farming secure Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand’s future food system as early as 2025?

The Malaysian urbanisation rate is expected to increase to 79.8% by 2025. Thereupon, food security and self-sufficiency are needed to serve the highly populated urban residents. The National Food Security Action Plan 2021-2025 (DSMN Action Plan) was embarked towards a sustainable food system, raising hope for urban agriculture. Numerous incentives were disclosed, for instance, RM1 billion as Malaysia Agrofood Financing Scheme to stimulate the productivity and advancement of agrifood entrepreneurs that act as the wheels for Malaysia’s food security.


Perceiving globally, Singapore launched the "30 by 30" goal to produce 30% of domestic nutritional consumption needs by 2030, which unveiled $ 60 million for the Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund to aggrandize its sustainable urban food production capabilities and capacities. With the recent initiated urban farm in Singapore, "GroGrace" a 650 square meter (6,997 square feet) of land that could potentially yield 33 metric tonnes of leafy greens per year equivalent to 70 kg sqm (or 750 kg per sqft per year).


The 3,000,000 kg per year yield urban farming experience from Malaysia’s Sunway FutureX Farm

Sunway FutureX Farm


With the opportunity of participation in “The Global Green Finance Leadership Program (GFLP)”, I had the tremendous honour to visit Sunway FutureX Farm, one of the largest urban farming innovation hub in Malaysia with 50,000 sqft of land that grows pesticide-free leafy greens and herbs. For the forthcoming years, Sunway XFarms strives to build 4 more decentralised urban farms in (Klang Valley, Iskandar Puteri in Johor, Penang and Ipoh, respectively) with 1,000,000 sqft of land that targets to produce 3,000,000 kg (3,000 metric tonnes) of leafy greens yearly, yielding 0.25 kg per sq ft per month. A recent launch (3Q22) from Sunway XFarms of a new indoor vertical farm in Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) with 37,000 sqft of land, expected to produce 156,000 kg (156 metric tonnes) per year, would yield 0.35 kg per sq ft per month.

Selected Malaysia's Urban Farm by size (sq ft)

Please note: The above diagram is not to scale and is for illustrative purposes only


Sunway’s decentralised XFarms of over 1,000,000 sqft could feed more than 100,000 people with vegetables, 0.41% of the Malaysian urban population

In conjunction with average Malaysians’ vegetable consumption falls between 27 to 28 kg per capita yearly. Assuming Sunway’s decentralised XFarms' production is generated at a margin, of 3,156,000kg (3,000,000kg + 156,000 kg) divided by 28 kg, able to feed approximately 112,715 people’s vegetable needs. On the basis of a rough calculation, contributing 0.41% to feed Malaysia's urban population is projected to upsurge from 20.29 million (71%) in 2010 to 27.30 million (79.6%) by 2025.


Food Security: The types of Urban Farming

The types of Urban Farming


Food security is derived as “each individual having access to adequate, nutritious food that suffices human dietary needs and food preferences for a wholesome life.”


Food security can be categorised into 2 sources, as depicted in the above diagram, conventional farming and now urban farming. There are 2 types of urban farming that can be further broken into outdoor farming and indoor farming due to the requirement from the type of crops, use of technology, space (i.e. land or building), funding, human capital development and consumer demand.

Sounds simple, yet a far-reaching goal for many urban farmers when embarking on urban farming.


Agriculture served as the primary food source for mankind. Urban farming had unfolded new possibilities from seed to table where food produce travels a shorter distance to arrive to the consumer. This decentralised food production system feeds communities without relying fully on the existing longer food mileage (e.g. distance from top producers of Cameron Highlands to Kuala Lumpur that is more than 200 km). However, urban farming will require time to achieve the economics of scale of higher demand (i.e. higher volume of consumers buying in for quality and fresher food, with lower food travel mileage) and attract more supply of urban farming resulting in a more cost-effective food supply chain comparable to existing food producers.


From Seed to Table: Building Sustainable Urban Farming Value Chains

Inputs and outputs of Urban Farming


“From seed to table” can be carved into physical, human and economic inputs, with the extensive range of farm activities turning the inputs into outputs along the entire value chain with a concrete road map.


Smarter Farming with hydroponics, IoT sensors and imaging technology produces up to 40% more yield

Sunway XFarms is setting ambitious sustainability targets for themselves, adopting smart farms to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12).


Integrating smart technologies into the XFarms system using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence and data analytics can conduce more transparency for better control and sustainable value chains. The approach of IoT sensors is where the devices have end-to-end connectivity with one another via the Internet for real-time farm monitoring. A wide range of data on the crops' condition will be collected and transferred through the network for optimal decision-making of resource applications. All of this process can be done without requiring human-to-human interaction, reducing labour costs.


Imaging technology is embedded in an IoT system using the camera to zoom into specific crops to access their physical condition and health. Whilst the real-time visual impressions detect nutrient deficiency, the farmer can act promptly for plant treatment. The precision instruction to crops’ needs is seeking to maximise crops yields and quality and lower operational costs simultaneously, achieving economies of scale. The sufficient insight delivery from the sensors brings more efficient crop management for farmers, curtailing the supply and demand gap of crop production. Raising a green light in ROI and prompting greater yields of 30% to 40% crops per square foot.


Hydroponics system: The potential of water to grow crops at 10% water usage only

Hydroponics system

The left photo was sourced from trees.com and the right photo was taken from an outdoor hydroponics system in Sunway FutureX Farm


A “hot” farming technique among urban farmers, introducing “hydroponics” that crops are fed with nutrient-packed water in lieu of soil. Sunway FutureX Farm is adopting the Nutrient Film Techniques (NFT) system - one of hydroponics technique that utilises just 10% of water, eschewing the need for pesticides or herbicides through the elimination of soil. Further adding to the point that soilless adoption and crops are more densely spaced together in hydroponics system could reduce heavy land usage including deforestation and land degradation. It brings the feasibility of farms in which locations are vulnerable to support farming such as deserts and Arctic climates with poor soil fertility, or space is finite, essentially in suburbs and urban districts.


Vertical Farming system: Takes food yield to greater heights, a 7x (seven times) yield

Vertical Farming System

The left photo was sourced from vectorstock.com and the right photo was taken from an indoor vertical hydroponics farming system in Sunway FutureX Farm


Land degradation is happening at an alarming pace for agriculture today. The concept of vertical farming is a direct solution, in which the crops are stacked vertically in layers in a climate-controlled environment with hydroponics. The growing shelves are mounted vertically which enables crop production to yield up to 7 times produce in the same land footprint. It manifested as more space efficient by occupying just 17% of the space needed for a conventional farm to generate 1 ton of crops. According to Global X ETFs data proposed, has outlined the significant gap in the output of crops grown in vertical farms can yield 787% (or 7x) more than in conventional farms. More indicatively, a conventional farm yields 16 tones (15 metric tonnes) while a vertical farm can yield to 126 tones (114 metric tonnes) per 1 acre of land.


Comparision between conventional farm and vertical farm


"ECO 1" the world’s largest vertical farming in Dubai with a 330,000 square feet farm could potentially produce more than 907 metric tonnes (2 million pounds) of leafy greens annually. Using merely 5% of water by virtue of the nutrient recirculation from the irrigation system, while conventional farms account for 70% of global water consumption.


Aquaponics system: A symbiotic relationship between fish and plants with recycled water

Aquaponics Systems

The left photo was sourced from pngegg.com and the right photo was taken from an outdoor aquaponics system in Sunway FutureX Farm


A subset of hydroponics called aquaponics integrates hydroponics with aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as tilapia fish) in a symbiotic environment. As the fish excrete waste containing nutrients, crop growth accelerates in an aquaponic system than crops are grown conventionally. On the basis of 100% natural nutrients being accessed 24/7 from the water recycles through the crops and fish tank, meanwhile only accounts for only 10% of water usage.


"Superior Fresh" is claimed as the world's largest aquaponics in the United States. Integrating the fish facility with a 130,680 sq ft (3-acre) glass greenhouse is set to produce 600 to 1,000 metric tonnes of leafy green yearly. Meanwhile, by increasing fish production (salmon and trout) capacity to 100 metric tonnes per year, aquaponics enables it to “kill two birds with one stone”.


Urban farming builds community, creates job opportunities and reduces carbon footprint and wastewater


Urban farming breaks the ground for the development of various innumerable environmental, economic, and social benefits to the surrounding communities. Agriculture is deemed as a bullet to drive economic growth, contributing 7% to 12% to Malaysia's GDP and employing 16% of the workforce.


Key Takeaways for the communities:

  1. Alleviate food insecurity by transforming the limited land pressure from conventional farming to urban farming, thereby ensuring sustainable food production.

  2. Reduces domestic carbon footprint from food mileage, shortening the distance of food travelling from farm to fork.

  3. Building communities between people and farmers in terms of educating and training on how food can be grown in an utterly safe and pesticide-free manner.

  4. Water use efficiency on hydroponics technology with its cutting-edge features, such as a closed irrigation system that diminishes the high demand for water needs.


Key Takeaways for the corporations:

  1. Provides job and business opportunities along the supply chain of urban farming that comprises a wide array of food-producing projects and activities. Amid the supply chain, the domestic economy is stimulated through job creation, and income generation from employers and employees, simultaneously acting as the small business growth engine.

  2. Added value to properties that are dedicated to an urban agriculture project. A collaboration among Sunway FutureX Farm and Sunway Property to launch its Growner (Growing and Owning) model for individuals who are interested to farm their crops. Considering the recent green shift in society, it was a valuable initiative and fringe benefit in the eyes of the tenants. In the United States (US), property values surged by 9.4% in the surrounding properties over 5 years after developing a community garden in the New York City with more than 14,000 acres in the rooftop of prime real estate.

  3. Tax incentives granted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries (MAFI) to provide green initiatives Accelerated Capital Allowance and 100% income tax exemption on capital expenditure to drive productivity and efficiency in agriculture. A 90% property tax abatement, enforced by the government of Washington D.C. in the US for private proprietor that deploys their land for urban agriculture use.

Final thoughts: Urban Farming served as the complementary solution for food security and resilience


Malaysia has its centralised crop production in highland areas such as Cameron Highland (40% of total supply from 3,601 ha), Lojing Kelantan and Ranau Sabah for highland farming predominantly. The major lowland farming districts are located in Senai Johor Bahru, Sengkang Muar, Simpang Renggam, Kluang and Kota Tinggi Johor and Kelantan. Crops grown in a conventional greenhouse consume approximately 250 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year per square meter of farming area.


As a trade-off to a good yield in a cutting-edge vertical farm, a staggering amount of 3,500 kWh per year for crops grown. An exorbitant energy costs on artificial lighting and keeping urban farms perfectly climate controlled. Being truth to the table, the supply and demand of urban crops often range from mid-tier to high-end restaurants and middle to high-income consumers (M40, T20) who can afford these nutritious foods. Indirectly, urban crops may not be tackling the food needs of lower-income consumers (B40) that are regarded as the epicentres of urban food deserts who live in suburban areas (i.e. outside of large cities).


Undeniable fact: A centralised food production system can no longer accommodate the appetite of an ever-increasing urban population's demand for food. Still and all, conventional farming plays a huge role as the world’s main source of farming.


Shining a light on the fact that urban farming is still a costly future endeavour.



Disclaimer: Although Aleevar Consulting had made every effort to ensure that the accuracy of information contained in this media (i.e. report, website) has been obtained from reliable source. Aleevar Consulting makes no warranties, expressed or implied and is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.


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