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By Muhammad Basir Roslan
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Certain green leafy vegetables – dubbed as superfoods – that thrive in temperate climate conditions can also grow lushly in a tropical setting.
Promoting the urban garden concept that makes use of sustainable, environmentally-friendly cultivation techniques, a company called Sustenir Agriculture is successfully cultivating non-native vegetables such as Kinky kale and Toscano kale on a 7,500-square foot site in Kajang, Selangor.
The person behind this venture is Sustenir Agriculture chief executive officer and co-founder Benjamin Swan who has seen a growing demand for healthy and safe food among Malaysians in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more consumers now seeking products that are rich in nutrients and can boost immunity and wellness without compromising on flavour.
Swan, who moved to Singapore from Australia about 12 years ago, said he got the idea to establish Sustenir Agriculture after he realised that Southeast Asian nations import 90 percent of their fresh produce from other countries.
The company started operating its facility in Kajang in April this year and is already producing and selling its Toscano kale and Kinky kale to local customers. It also has an urban farm project in Singapore where it also cultivates other leafy greens such as lettuce, rocket, ice plant and spinach.
“Our products are harvested daily and directly distributed to our consumers, which retains the freshness of our leafy greens. We are the first zero-mile fresh produce retailer in Malaysia,” he said.
INDOOR VERTICAL FARMING
Swan said Sustenir Agriculture is focused on growing a resilient future by significantly reducing carbon emissions and food waste created by imported perishable products.
It practices indoor vertical farming and cultivates its vegetables using the latest controlled environment agriculture (CEA) technology whereby it can monitor and control every aspect of farming and create an optimal environment for the plants to thrive without exposure to soil, pesticides or any other environmental toxin.
Indoor vertical farming utilises 95 percent less water than conventional farming while its production is projected to be 178 times more than that of traditional farms.
“The opportunities in this type of farming are endless as we know it. We can grow almost anything indoors that typically would not grow outdoors in tropical weather.
“Our CEA farming environment also enables us to grow pesticide-free and clean crops which meet many of the ISO 22000 food standards,” he said.
Elaborating on the future of indoor vertical farming in Malaysia, Swan said it is a nascent industry, albeit a thriving one.
“I expect a bigger opportunity for developments to be made in optimising how indoor vertical farming can be done. Our technology uses a plug-and-play system, which means we can set up a farm in any indoor office space quickly, and start growing a stable food supply. This is how technology is driving modern farming businesses like Sustenir Agriculture to stand out in the modern farming industry,” he said.
Swan also said that other than helping to supply superfood products to local consumers, Sustenir Agriculture also hopes to provide job opportunities in the agriculture technology industry to the local community in Malaysia.
“About 98 percent of our team in Malaysia are locals. Most of them have backgrounds in plant science or outdoor farming, and we are grooming them to be the next generation of high-tech indoor farmers,” he said, adding that he also plans to expand the farming concept to other states in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, Dr Ahmad Esa Abdul Rahman, a senior lecturer at the Department of Culinary Arts Management and Gastronomy in the Faculty of Hotel and Tourism Management at UiTM Puncak Alam said food producers such as Sustenir Agriculture need to focus on cultivating food products for the larger public because ensuring public access to local produce is more important in the context of food security.
“In this instance, when we talk about food security, the focus must be on foods that are commonly consumed by the locals and which are less costly and accessible,” he said.
Ahmad Esa said superfoods may provide additional nutritional benefits but they need to be fairly priced to make sure that Malaysians from all walks of life have access to them.
He added that food producers should focus on farming and promoting local greens that have the potential to be commercialised as superfoods.
“In Malaysia’s context, we have plenty of them (vegetables) that can be explored and popularised. Companies like Sustenir Agriculture need to work with agencies such as MARDI (Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute) and local universities to promote local greens with great potential not only for local consumption but for export too,” he said.
Edited by Rema Nambiar
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