Talent development vital to boost urban farming

We need to build entrepreneurs who not only understand the principles of agriculture, but also technology


MALAYSIA needs to produce the right talent for modern agriculture or urban farming in order to boost its development and for more efficient operation of enterprises in the sector.

Sunway Group chief innovation officer Matt Van Leeuwen said talent development is not solely the government’s task, but also the education institutions’ as well as private investors’ in order to make it successful.

“We need to build entrepreneurs who not only understand the principles of agriculture, but also know how to work with technology. Talent who know how to build successful businesses and how to raise funding.

“Malaysia might remain low in adopting urban farming, but there is a huge opportunity for us to do something very meaningful,” he responded to The Malaysian Reserve’s question during the panel discussion on Urban Farming and Agritech: Feeding the Nation yesterday.

The panel session was part of the second day of the virtual World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) Roundtable 2021.

The global urban farming market is expected to reach US$236.4 billion (RM995.95 billion) by 2023. The Covid-19 pandemic has, however, highlighted the urgency for nations to ensure their food security.

Can modern agriculture be able to combat high food inflation? Van Leeuwen said food inflation is a very tough problem to solve.

“In Malaysia, the high prices of vegetables that have been a hot issue since the last two week are the result of the increased prices of pesticide and fertiliser that have been imported from other countries.

“It’s very worrying. I think the government is stepping in, giving subsidies to the small farmers that need support. Perhaps we need to start thinking about alternatives (instead of) using chemicals, especially when we talk about sustainability,” he added.

The global price increases of fertilisers and pesticides are among reasons behind the recent skyrocketing price of vegetables in the country, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Alexander Nanta Linggi said.

“Therefore, several action plans are being drawn up involving the three ministries and I hope these can be implemented as soon as possible to help the severely affected consumers and traders,” he said recently.

The Consumers Association of Penang president Mohideen Abdul Kader said checks showed that the prices of some vegetables had increased by up to 200% in the past two weeks.

Another panellist, Japan Plant Factory Association VP Eri Hayashi, said plant factories, or vertical farms, are seen to play an important role in responding to global challenges — such as poverty, climate change and environmental degradation — addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Compared to 10 years ago, the industry has been developing at such an exciting time. Right now, the need and demand is changing. Before, people were just looking for information in the sector before starting their business and now people are actually starting to farm themselves.

“We have to be more practical and get more practical,” she said.