KUALA LUMPUR: Sunway Group, through Sunway XFarms, plans to build one million square feet decentralised, smart farms across four urban hubs in Malaysia in the next five years.
Sunway Group chief innovation officer and Sunway XFarms director Matt van Leeuwen said the group planned to scale up the farms and increase its produce to provide better, healthier options for the public.
“This is obviously not something that will happen overnight, but in the next five years we aim to build one million square feet of decentralised, smart farms across four urban food hubs in Malaysia.
“This includes Klang Valley, Iskandar Puteri in Johor, Ipoh, and Penang, which are all areas where Sunway has a strong presence. In five years, we expect these four hubs will yield three million kilogram produce on a yearly basis,” he told the New Straits Times in an interview.
The concept for Sunway XFarms came about two years ago during the onset of the pandemic driven by several market shifts that were taking place.
He said the pandemic showed that food supply chains were fragile and it required innovation to address deeply rooted farm to fork inefficiencies.
Another driver of the initiative among students in Sunway University that took an interest in IoT technologies to build agricultural solutions.
He said through Sunway iLabs in 2018, the group had built a makerspace in Sunway University to give students a space to turn ideas into prototypes.
He realised that young talents were now getting interested in agriculture, because of the technology involved, however they lacked a real testbed to validate their ideas and take them to market.
At the same time, the group had several brainstorming sessions with its property division in Sunway on ways to turn underutilised and idle spaces into productive spaces that could engage the community and build a more sustainable living environment.
“Taking into account these market shifts, we started off as an urban farm innovation hub with the backing from Sunway University and Sunway Property.
“The main objective of this hub was to bring together students, researchers, entrepreneurs and industry leaders to address food security and give young talents an opportunity to develop their agritech skills.
“As part of the urban farm innovation hub, we built a few pilot farms as a proof of concept to validate the technology and business model, and developed a talent pool. Soon after that, in late 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Sunway X Farms was born,” he said.
To date, Sunway XFarms has succeeded in growing more than 70 varieties of leafy greens and herbs in its greenhouses and indoor vertical farm.
He said the company was supplementing this now with fruity vegetables and have started research and development on growing soft fruits, such as high-quality strawberries.
“Our product range is very dependent on the local needs and tastes of our customers. The beauty of our technology-driven production methods is that we can rapidly switch between crops if market demand changes in terms of quantity and variety.
“This not only enables us to serve our customers better, but it also ensures we are not wasting food, which is really aligned to our sustainability values in Sunway,” he added.
Sunway XFarms currently has four pilot farms in Sunway City, Kuala Lumpur and a demonstration farm at Sunway Pyramid mall.
The company is building an additional farm on the rooftop at the Sunway Resort & Hotel and a 37,000 square feet indoor vertical farm in KLCC at Sunway Tower, which will be the largest indoor farm in the KLCC area.
One of the benefits of urban farming is that it can reduce the carbon footprint by cutting the
distance that food needs to travel from farm to fork and eliminate the use of chemical pesticides.
This also ensures that the produce will be fresher and contains a higher nutritional value as Sunway XFarms’ turnaround time is only three hours from harvesting the produce to getting it to their customers.
“We can achieve all this by setting up decentralised, precision farms close to where people live in the cities. In addition to reducing carbon emissions and food wastage, this will also help build a connection between people and the farmers and help educate how we can grow food in a completely pesticide-free manner, which will have a positive impact on people’s health,” he said.
He added that the company visioned to have a smart farm within five-kilometre reach from urban communities in Malaysia.
He added urban farms were not meant to replace traditional farms as the latter was still needed for staples like rice, poultry, cattle or dairy.
“But it can definitely augment these farms and impact food security in a sustainable way. As highlighted earlier, our urban populations continue to rise and consumers need healthier food options. So this is a problem that we are excited to solve in XFarms,” he added.
Source: New Straits Times