Although vertical farming in Malaysia has taken some time to gain traction, rapid urbanization, coupled with the devasting effects of the pandemic, has been a game-changer that has inspired budding entrepreneurs to enter the exciting vertical farming market.
Vertical farming in Malaysia is essential as excellent, and organic crops can be cultivated in small urban settings to meet the increasing consumer demand. Malaysians are aware of the importance of food security, leading to an urban substance farming phenomenon that has permeated the country.
So, you might be wondering whether this pioneering farming technique is worth considering? The answer might just astound you!
Why is Vertical Farming in Malaysia Growing In Popularity?
Vertical farming in Malaysia took some time to grow, as a shortage of land was never previously an issue. However, like in the rest of the world, traditional outdoor farming is not adequately equipped to feed rapidly growing urban populations.
A startling published Bioscience journal study underscores the importance of vertical farming as our current global production of food has to be ramped up by 25-70% by 2050, yet there is not enough arable land to meet demand.
Therefore, growing crops in vertical layers utilizing hydroponics, aeroponics, or aquaponics and employing Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) technology enables budding Malaysian entrepreneurs to produce high yields of nutrient-rich fresh food for their local communities.
To illustrate this point, it is theoretically possible to feed 50 000 people for a year by turning a 30-story urban building into a vertical farm that produces herbicide or pesticide-free crops and uses 70% less water in comparison to open-field agriculture.
Moreover, urban-based vertical farming in Malaysia can traditionally produce season-dependent crops throughout the year. It is often fresher compared to traditionally sourced products that must be transported from rural settings.
Urban Vertical Farming in Malaysia
Jo Han’s success inspired his friends Looi Choon Beng, Jayden Koay, and Low Cheng Yang to cultivate their own produce. Today even converted his bathtub into a seedling germination area!
However, these best friends realized that the vertical farming industry was in its infancy. All the hydroponic equipment and materials like fertilizers were imported from China, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, making them incredibly expensive.
This gap in the market for locally produced vertical farming equipment inspired these firm friends, turned business partners to establish CityFarm Malaysia in 2016, and within the space of six months, their sales figures proved that they were on the road to success.
This impressive start-up was subsequently invited to attend a United Nations presentation in Kuala Lumpur, which made them realize that their bigger vision should include providing food security in producing affordable, quality produce for local consumers.
To that end, they started a vertical farming consultancy service to expand the implementation of vertical farms in Malaysia, equipped with cutting-edge hydroponic technology.
On that topic – Jo Han believes that his farming method should be referred to as soil-less cultivation and not hydroponics, as they cultivate produce in soil-less rectangular boxes.
While this cultivation method has enormous benefits, it also has its challenges with infesting micro-organisms and employing air quality, temperature, and PH level management tools to ensure that their crops contain the correct amount of nutrients.
Therefore, it is essential to teach urban vertical farmers the potential pitfalls of cultivating crops in water.
In addition to monitoring the farm’s air quality and temperature, farmers should measure their water parts per million (ppm) and pH levels and ensure that it retains adequate levels of phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium nutrients.
CityFarm Malaysia is currently growing herbs, leafy greens, and fruit indoors and plans to experiment with aeroponic systems to cultivate root plants in the near future.
Although there is a misperception that hydrophobically cultivated vegetables are watery or tasteless, that is not the case if they are cultivated with adequate nutrients that would typically be added to soil cultivated crops.
You can check out this video from CityFarm.
The Future Of Vertical Farming in Malaysia
While there is currently enough arable farming land in Malaysia, it is only a matter of time before supply outstrips demand in rapidly growing urban communities that demand quality, locally cultivated produce.
Much work still needs to be done to educate consumers about vertical farming to understand that it’s possible to enthuse their vegetables with additional nutrients that could be far superior to soil-grown produce.
What Are The Barring Factors To Establishing A New Vertical Farm In Malaysia?
The main barring factor for any budding entrepreneur is the prohibitively expensive vertical farming start-up costs that require a substantial capital outlay, high electricity costs to maintain the LED lighting system, expensive climate control systems, and labor costs.
Moreover, backup energy will have to be in place due to Malaysia’s frequent power outages which is an additional expense.
Vertical farming in Malaysia is also limited to the crops they can grow, as staples like wheat and rice are currently challenging to grow on a large scale in a vertical farming environment.
Malaysia Indoor Farming Gaining Popularity
A recently published Sustainability Report from the Universiti Malaysia Sabah highlighted the fact that Malaysia’s urban population increased from 34.3% in 1971 to a staggering 77.2% in 2020.
Rapid urbanization, coupled with the pandemic’s detrimental effects, has resulted in an insufficient supply of affordable sustenance, which has inspired Malaysians to cultivate their subsistence produce in urban settings.
This is born out of recent statistics highlighting that while only 18,687 Malaysians cultivated urban crops in 2019, that number grew to 40,219 urban gardens by 2020 across the country. These numbers highlight the growing need for small-scale, local farming operations in cities.
Innovative urban farmers have used various organic crop cultivation techniques like aeroponics and hydroponics in areas like new rain shelters.
A Malaysian Indoor Farming Success Story
Two intrepid friends proved that it is possible to successfully cultivate a thriving urban farm in the bustling heart of Kuala Lumpur, which surpasses the traditional bricks-and-mortar store business model.
Vegetable Co was established by Mr. Ng and Sha G.P in a humble 320-square-foot shipping container adjacent to a gas station which was kitted out with numerous LED-lit shelves with hydroponically cultivated vegetables, sprouts, and lettuces, before Malaysia’s mid-March lockdown.
Even though the owners thought their timing could not be worse, they were proven wrong. During the pandemic, their customers avoided in-person shopping and appreciated their fresh produce deliveries straight to their doors.
Vegetable Co’s customer base and revenue grew by 300% within weeks, and the partners might be forced to install an additional vertical garden to cater to their high consumer demand.
While it may be true that Malaysia does not have a shortage of arable land, the traditional farming sector has not been able to sustain the high demand for affordable, quality produce in a crowded urban setting.
Although it is heartening to note that pioneering entrepreneurs ensure that current and future urban generations can stave off inequality and hunger. There are clear barriers to adopting the practice, but these shouldn’t be difficult to overcome with the correct level of investment.