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Is vertical farming technology just a novelty?

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By: Kartigha Ayamany and Dr. Suzana Ariff Azizan 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognizes several SDG goals that promote urban agriculture, which notably recognizes Goal 2, ending hunger, achieving food security, better nutrition, and developing sustainable agriculture.

As cities grow, food security is becoming ever more of a concern. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), by the year 2050, two-thirds of the world’s people will live in cities. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has had great effects in regard to food security in Malaysia, primarily the rising food prices. Especially for urban communities, this has made it harder to get enough healthy and affordable meals. With more Malaysian citizens living in cities, there is a greater need for new ways to farm.

Urban farming is seen as a comprehensive approach that not only produces wholesome and nutrient-dense food crops but also offers the chance to advance social integration, environmental sustainability, and economic development. Under the National Economic Recovery Plan (Pakej Jana Semula Ekonomi Negara (PEJANA) initiative, the Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry has reserved RM 10 million to be disbursed to 800 localities and 12,000 new participants adopting the urban farming initiative.

Vertical farming is one method of producing food in cities. Vertical farming is a very broad topic with many different methods and systems available. Each technique has its own set of advantages, disadvantages, needs, and limitations. The variation in location, available building materials, and climatic conditions potentially impact the development of several techniques that allow the installation of gardens in height and shape.

While this technology has a long way to go before it can effectively compete with conventional agriculture, multiple long-term drivers indicate that it is a revolutionary technology worth investing in.

One advantage is the higher output as compared to traditional farming. Furthermore, the benefits of vertical farming technology include the elimination of soil-borne pests and most abiotic pressures, such as environmental influences caused by weather or day length. The technology also eliminates agricultural tasks such as ploughing and sowing, which require a large amount of fuel.

The method’s limitations include the complexity of creating vertical farming as well as the high operational and maintenance costs.

Nevertheless, commercial vertical farming projects such as Sunway X Farms, Subang Jaya, CityFarm, Seri Kembangan, Farmy Vertical Farms, Petaling Jaya, Agroz Indoor Vertical Farm, Sungai Buloh “Kebun by Amboi”, Puchong, “City Roof Top Farm”, I-City, Shah Alam, “Babylon Vertical Farms”, Petaling Jaya, “Urban Hijau”, Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, “Cultiveat”, Subang Jaya, “U Need Farm”, Puchong, “The Vegetable.co”, Kuala Lumpur, “Green Bugs Farm”, Petaling Jaya, “E-Farm”, Kuala Lumpur, “Boomgrow Farm”, Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, “Vegetory”, Puchong, “Farmy Vertical Farm”, Petaling Jaya and “Aquaville Urban Farm”, Kuala Lumpur have been established within the Klang Valley region itself.

However, a big question remains – “How can vertical farming be further diffused in the urban context of Malaysia?”

By studying the consumer acceptance of vertical farming within Klang Valley, research reveals that consumers’ motivation to purchase vertical farming products or systems depend heavily on the various scale, systems, and product usefulness. Consumers trend view vertical farming systems and vegetables and fruits produced as an enrichment to their lifestyle.

The success of vertical farming projects in Klang Valley heavily relies on the purchasing trend in retail settings. Although there is less accessible agricultural land in the city and it would be challenging to feed the entire population of a metropolis like Klang Valley, a multi-approach adoption of vertical farming at retail outlets is a viable solution for businesses and customers.

More companies and retail outlets can also consider giving customers direct choices when it comes to how they eat. “Farm to table” restaurants, vertical farming systems with fresh produce at retail stores, malls, supermarkets, and grocery stores are one strategy that can raise further public awareness about the benefits of this technology.

Consumers in Klang Valley also find operating small-scaled vertical home farms challenging. Hence, businesses that sell vertical farming systems would benefit from focusing their marketing and communication strategies on how the vertical farming system would enrich their performance and lifestyle and the user-friendliness of the system itself.

In conclusion, the widespread adoption of innovative agricultural technologies such as vertical farming will need the collaboration of several parties. These entities include corporate executives, investors, government officials, farmers, and nongovernmental organisation leaders.

…… 

The authors are from the Department of Science and Technology Studies, Faculty of Science, Universiti Malaya. 

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