Malaysia: Bringing farming game to life by growing real produce

Remember FarmVille, the agriculture-simulation social network game that once had tens of millions of players glued to their screens every day, for hours at a time, tending cartoon patches of land? Now that game has been brought off-screen into real life. Well, not off-screen exactly. Users can download the Aquaville app, select the type of plants they want to be grown and harvested for self-consumption, or donate the actual product. 

Envisioned by Alfred Chia Weng Yan, founder of Kon Nii Sdn Bhd, the web and mobile application is aimed at helping city farmers earn a stable income while offering equal opportunities for the disabled and providing access to safe food for consumers.

Chia, who is also the founder of Aspire Asia Sdn Bhd that’s behind Alfred, a property management app, also wanted to leave behind a legacy of good for his daughters, Kon Nii and Jaen Nii. “With agritech and a whole lot of experimentation, we have vertical farming, hydroponics, aquaponics and whatnot, but agriculture is not exciting and it is not drawing enough attention.

“Through the app, we make it possible for customers to subscribe to plots. They can decide what to plant in their plot and then the farmer plants the desired vegetables, be it kangkung, spinach or cabbage. “And through recurring business, farmers then earn sustainable income as consumers subscribe for six months or longer, which means farmers get paid in advance,” shares Chia. “We wanted to automate processes as much as possible, so it is easier for farmers to run their businesses. Right now, a lot of their time is spent on physical labour, so much of which can be automated,” he says.

Chia assembled a team and began testing out several options and finally settled on a modified normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) camera — which can monitor the growth and health status of agricultural produce — and uses AI to deduce the findings. “We wanted to be able to alert farmers on the progress of their crops and sound the alarm if something was wrong. Currently, they are eyeballing everything, from the amount of water to how much light their plants are getting.

“The grand plan is to have vertical farms in shopping malls, where we get people to subscribe to plots and they have their names there. Even companies and restaurants can subscribe to the plots, and get their supply of leafy greens from aquaponics set-ups. “This way, you know what you are eating, how it is grown and where it is coming from,” he points out.

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