Sunway goes into agritech

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Sunway Group is venturing into agricultural technology (agritech) to help reduce Malaysia’s food import bill and encourage and reduce the carbon footprint on the food consumed in the country.

It is building a 50,000 sq ft urban farming innovation hub, Sunway FutureX, to help urban farming professionals, tech companies, researchers and young talents collaborate and create solutions for food and agritech. The hub should be completed by the third quarter of this year.

Sunway FutureX, an initiative led by Sunway Innovation Labs (Sunway iLabs), will be located in the heart of Sunway City Kuala Lumpur and it will feature FutureX Farm, an indoor and outdoor smart farming area, FutureX Talent, a research and development centre, and FutureX Campus, a training and collaborative space.

“Bringing together a wide pool of expertise and resources from ecosystem players, Sunway FutureX will aim to create decentralised urban farms to serve local communities, and to address supply chain challenges and the distance between the farm and the fork. 

“We hope to build new innovations, which will contribute to improved long-term food security and sustainability in our nation,” says Matt Van Leeuwen, the Sunway Group chief innovation officer and Sunway iLabs director, in a press release.

It is looking to create an agritech ecosystem and one of its first partners will be Sunway Property. “We aim to nourish our communities with the fresh produce grown at our farms and educate them on sustainable living and urban farming.”

Ultimately, it hopes to empower homeowners to grow their own food. “This will be a model for Sunway Property to replicate throughout their cities in Malaysia and allow us to scale up quickly.”

The press release quoted reports that claimed Malaysia imports most of its food from countries such as China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and New Zealand because only about 8% of its agricultural land is used for agro-food production. 

“Malaysia’s food import bill has grown significantly over the last two decades and exceeded RM52 billion in 2018. Research shows that imported food loses an alarming amount of nutrients during processing, packaging and transportation before it reaches consumers.

“In addition, traditional farming methods and existing logistics involved in the supply chain contribute in a big way to the carbon footprint. With the world experiencing unprecedented challenges amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, the threat to food security has increased,” the press release adds.

It goes on to say that in urban cities like the Klang Valley where land is limited and expensive, Sunway sees the potential of harvesting the power of talent and technology to build urban farms in underutilised spaces such as rooftops, car parks and even within buildings.

Sunway adds that recent developments in technology have enabled efficient urban farming techniques that require less water and no pesticide to produce consistent yields while revitalising underutilised spaces. “In recent years, urban farming has rapidly gained attention in cities all over the world as a feasible instrument in realising food sustainability and sustainable development.”

FutureX Farm will partner with Thought For Food (TFF), a global non-profit organisation dedicated to entrepreneurial innovation for food and agriculture.

“We see many exciting opportunities to collaborate with Sunway iLabs to provide a sandbox for start-ups from our global TFF innovation platform to carry out pilot projects to test out their solutions to fit local market needs,” Thought For Food chief executive officer (CEO) Christine Gould says.

Thought for Food will be partnering with Sunway iLabs to launch various programmes, including the TFF Digital Asean Lab, to engage, empower and accelerate the next generation of purpose-driven food and agritech innovators.

Sunway Group embarked on its journey towards food sustainability last year by repurposing 40 hectares of undeveloped land in Sunway City Ipoh for food and agriculture. Located at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, Sunway Organic Gardens produces pesticide-free fruits and vegetables with fresh water from mountains for its guests, locals who work there and their communities.

Sunway Pyramid, Sunway Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) and Sunway Hotels & Resorts have also joined forces to introduce the "Food CPR — Compost. Plant. Reduce." campaign aimed at tackling the food waste problem in Malaysia. Food waste will be channelled into Sunway Pyramid and Sunway Hotels & Resorts on-site compost machines to be processed into fertilisers. The compost will be free for the public to collect at Sunway Pyramid’s compost collection area at B1 Blue Zone Carpark Lobby.