By Dr Juju Nakasha Jaafar
Sector Committee for Urban Farming (UP)
MAPAN (Malaysian Association of Public Advocacy for Nature)
Population in Malaysia has increased from 33,199,993 in 2020 to 33,938,221 in 2022, with a minimum of a one per cent increase yearly. The rise in food production should support the increase in population.
As a developing country with limited experts and technology, it is a big challenge for Malaysians to increase the food supply. Other than the population, raw materials prices have also increased tremendously, and Malaysian categorised under B40 and below are mainly affected.
Society may eat fewer meals or smaller portions or eat processed foods such as instant noodles and other canned products to survive. It has led to an unhealthy diet which affected our health services. Furthermore, the price of vegetables in the market is increasing, resulting from the import cost of fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, planting media and the currency itself.
For example, a family of four would spend around RM100-RM150 a month to buy vegetables. But in the current situation, they have to double the spending cost.
It is predicted that the situation will become more challenging in the future. Due to this reason, the government, agencies, industries, and universities are now giving much attention to this matter.
One of the strategies to help the community is promoting urban agriculture. Agriculture activities previously done in rural areas have now changed its trend to urban areas.
At the community level, crops such as water spinach, amaranth, mustard, okra, chilli, eggplant and lemon grass are among the popular crops planted on urban farms.
Urban Farming – Fertigation
For the community to conduct urban agriculture activities, they must get exposure to the techniques in the urban farm. The limitation in urban areas, such as space, soil fertility, location and time, can be countered with the knowledge, skills and technology given to the community.
Commonly-used cultivation systems in urban farming are fertigation, raised beds, hydroponic towers, nutrient film technique and deep-water culture. These systems are practical for the community and match the limitations mentioned above.
However, to choose the suitable method, the community must decide based on the type of property they live in and the initial investment. Individuals living in apartments can choose either the indoor or outdoor hydroponic system with a vertical arrangement on their balcony or inside their unit, respectively.
The light requirement can be fulfilled with the support of LED light for plants. However, suppose those staying in apartments wish to conduct urban farming as a group community. In that case, they can use the space between the blocks, entrances, and parking sides as plots for urban agriculture.
The community can share the cost and achieve higher production as more plants can be planted.
Moreover, the activity of urban farming can be a source of side income for the community. For income generation, the community can sell the harvested vegetables and seedlings and repackage agricultural produce.
Agriculture inputs that the community can sell by repackaging are seeds, germination medium, soil mixture and fertiliser. For example, seedlings germinated using peat moss on the germination tray can be sold at RM50 to RM70 per tray, with a cost of RM7 to RM10 per tray.
The repackaging of chicken manure can be sold at RM8/kg, with a cost of RM1.20/kg. Nonetheless, the skills in creating more products in urban farm communities must be guided by external parties to help the community generate side income.
Another way to help the community is by providing them with knowledge and skills in technology. Most of the community farms in Malaysia use manual methods compared to smart farming. It is due to the high initial cost involved during the startup.
However, to get the young generation involved in urban farming, the technology’s price must be affordable. It requires decisive intervention from researchers (universities, industries, and institutes) to counter this problem.
It needs interdisciplinary areas to build practical, affordable technology for the community and is in line with the current modernisation.