Food security is quite the challenge within the Malaysian market as certain fresh crops have to come a long way before it’s in urban centers. “During the pandemic, we had an immense vegetable shortage as it’s mostly grown in Malaysia’s highlands,” says Shawn Ng, co-founder of Future Farms. "Due to movement limitations, fresh produce could barely enter Kuala Lumpur and only had access to the nearest, freshest vegetables, some of which we had been selling under the brand The Vegetable Co."
The country’s rice Self Sustaining Level (SSL) hovers between 60-70% in Malaysia, which is a concern. Therefore, we wanted to address this by reducing imports and the reliance on the global supply chain, Shawn claims.
“Once we discovered CEA, we saw big potential for it in the long-term,” says Sha G.P., co-founder of Future Farms. Being rather fascinated by the idea, both entrepreneurs decided to kick off The Vegetable Co to address the local consumer market. As Kuala Lumpur citizens are very receptive to the vertical farming concept, they’re aiming to provide year-round fresh produce to the city.
Comprehensive understanding of the industry
Future Farms is implementing a holistic development of all vertical farms in the indoor development, plants, technology, farm, and market. Shawn notes, “We don’t mind democratizing our systems and farms to catalyze the vertical farming revolution across Malaysia and the world. Future Farms is open to partnerships and collaborations, anything that can really help to catalyze.”
There’s a huge priority on speeding things up so the company can provide healthy greens to everyone. As a result, Future Farms wants to develop three verticals in tandem. According to Shawn, this helps to understand various challenges, such as technology, farming operations, vegetable production, market development, and sales of produce. The company wants to provide a comprehensive understanding of the vertical farming sector as a whole. According to Future Farms’ vision, it's all about providing significant value-added to everyone out there inspired to build a farm or eat healthy vegetables.
“Vertical farming is still in its nascent stages as of yet, however, in terms of sustainability it’s a collective effort,” says Sha. “Farming is one thing but, the transition of energy is a major thing affecting the global carbon emission. We should be focusing on the transition of the energy sector globally, rather than only addressing climate challenges within the agriculture industry. We’re optimizing our variables here and are doing our part.”
Future Farms managed to raise its stakes and started commercializing early last year. Within a couple of months, a new farm will be realized as they’re scaling up their initial farm to 1800 sq. ft. By continuing to scale up, the company will be able to drive down costs and offer even their products in a more cost-friendly way. “We’re not going into business and retail too much at the moment given the shortage of supply,” Shawn notes.
The idea to start a farm arose when co-founder Sha watched how potatoes were cultivated s in a controlled environment in ‘The Martian’. The concept inspired them to look deeper into the technology that enables crop growth in difficult to impossible environments. Two years ago, when Future Farms initially entered the market, the company did market validation to see where demand came from. Furthermore, the team explored the underlying growing technology in order to see the possibilities in future crop growth.
“As indoor farming wasn’t as popular in the region back then,” says Sha, “we wanted to gain a better understanding to get proof of concept and develop our prototype.” Once the concept was validated, the company dedicated more resources to a bigger farm in order to supply more customers.
Future Farms is looking to bring down costs per kg, not only financially, but also resource costs. According to Sha, “It really comes down to treating the variables that are involved with plant growth.” “We’ll come down to a recipe to achieve this, and we’re gradually moving more towards green energy to further make us more sustainable.” Shawn notes that cultivating Western vegetables in KL is the company’s best-added value currently. By scaling up they can bring down costs which is another great benefit for our customers. Many solutions out there are aiming towards sustainable farming and each of us has to do their own part bringing sustainable products,” says Shawn.
As The Vegetable Co. would like to expand its product portfolio to more leafy greens and herb varieties, the focus is now on optimizing the growing recipes of the currently cultivated produce. Technology and control systems are developed in-house, which according to Sha, offers more flexibility than other technology currently available, such as customized light recipes for their plants.
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Shawn Ng, Co-founder