THE Penang government has set its sight on building 100 Community Farming projects in the next five years, especially by utilising available pockets of land in the state.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow revealed this after launching the pilot project, known as “Kebun Kita(r),” at the Penang Digital Library 1 (PDL 1) in Jalan Masjid Negeri today, emphasising the concept of urban farming in producing organic vegetables.
It is located beside the Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI)-owned PDL 1 building whereby red spinach, bok choi (pak choi), cabbage, round and long brinjal and long beans are grown over less than 2,000sq ft area – mostly on raised beds and a few on sensor IoT-enabled vertical aquaponics.
Chow said the project was also in line with the state’s Penang2030 vision in creating a ‘Family-focused Green and Smart State that Inspires the Nation’ as well as a kind of food security for the state and country.
He said the state saw that community farming has bright prospects following the success of “Malaysia First Vanilla Smart Farm” launched at Permatang Pauh Agropark on Aug 13 with the aspirations of upgrading the economy by increasing household income.
“Through this community farming initiative, the produce will be distributed to existing channels such as the Mutiara Food Bank in Penang for the underprivileged like the B40 group,” Chow said in his speech at the opening ceremony of the Community Farming project.
“In this respect, I also call upon the state government departments and agencies to meet the challenge of implementing community farming under the supervision of their respective departments and agencies to achieve the state’s intention of creating 100 community farming projects.”
Chow, whose residence also has an urban farm covering about 200sq ft, congratulated CMI, Think City and Tanjung Malim-based Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) for their collaboration in developing the project to further transform Penang into a green and smart state.
He also thanked the state Agriculture Department for providing the seedlings.
Think City provided the funding of about RM35,000 while UPSI used their expertise to develop the project by employing Internet of Things (IoT) to run the agricultural system.
Also present at the opening ceremony were state executive councillors Jagdeep Singh Deo, Datuk Abdul Halim Hussain and Yeoh Soon Hin, and assemblymen Joseph Ng, Ong Ah Teong, Chris Lee and Daniel Gooi.
Others included CMI deputy general manager Bharathi Suppiah, UPSI Faculty of Arts, Computing and Creative Industry dean Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Zahuri Khairani, USPI Assoc Prof Dr Che Zalina Zulkifli and UPSI Prof Dr Mohd Fauzi Sedon, Think City managing director Hamdan Abdul Majeed and Think City project manager G. Karthigayan.
Bharathi said 60 per cent of the produce would be given to those in the underprivileged group while the remaining 40 percent would be sold to the general public to cover operational costs.
State executive councillor Jagdeep Singh Deo, who is the Datuk Keramat assemblyman for the area, expressed hopes that the project would also be set up in other parts of the state and that UPSI would further collaborate with the state in other projects.
Dr Mohd Zahuri said UPSI not only wants to impart knowledge and services to their students, but also to contribute to society.
“This project is a good turning point, especially in a small area like this. We cannot stop here,” Dr Mohd Zahuri said.
“UPSI does a lot of CSR (corporate social responsibility) projects not only in Perak but all over Malaysia.
“Our doors are always open to have mutual understanding with other agencies and industrial people.
“We’ve all the expertise from nine faculties that are offered to the community. We think that it is time for us to pay back to the community.
“I think the best policy now is to give back to the community because we have been developed by using taxpayers’ money.
“We know we cannot only rely on the Government. We need to generate our own income. As the oldest university in Malaysia, beginning as Sultan Idris Training College in 1922, we will be doing a lot of programmes for the community as we look forward to celebrate our centenary in two years.”
Giving a hand to the “Kebun Kita(r)” project is Dr Che Zalina, whose invention of an Economical Food Waste Composter, is being used to produce the fertiliser from organic compost manure.
“We develop the project from raw, 100 per cent using all local technology. We use our own wireless platform. We use one reader and one receiver and integrate all sensors,” she said.
More than 27 composting machines created by her have also been adopted on the mainland in collaboration with the Seberang Perai City Council, and also in George Town.
Other places where her equipment has been used are at the Penang governor’s residence, schools, restaurants and local communities.
Hamdan said urban farming was a crucial aspect of the future as the benefits to society were manifold.
“We live in uncertain times and have witnessed the effects of disruption most acutely with the Covid-19 pandemic. We may yet encounter challenges such as interruptions to supply chains, loss of employment, and movement restrictions.
“A sustainable urban farming movement can enable communities to grow food independently, and potentially provide opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship and social cohesion.
“It is our collective hope that the farm will enable capacity-building that will give rise to more agrotech-preneurs and encourage young people to delve into this industry. It is also an opportunity for existing farmers to grow their businesses and break out of the B40 community,” he said.
Towards the end of the ceremony, Chow and the invited guests were shown around the Community Farm where they were briefed by Dr Che Zalina and Karthigayan.
Also, they got to eat some of the vegetables which were prepared by some young and experienced chefs from CAC Academy of Chefs Penang after plucking the veges from the farm themselves.
Story by K.H. Ong
Pix by Ahmad Adil Muhamad
Video by Law Suun Ting