top of page

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 suffic