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Meet the M'sian agritech biz that AEON partnered with to open vertical farms in its malls

There’s a reason why agriculture remains as one of the most important industries in any country.

According to the World Bank, it’s crucial to a nation’s economic growth, accounting for 4% of global gross domestic product (GDP). In some developing countries, it can even go as high as accounting for more than 25% of a country’s GDP.

But putting numbers aside, the local agricultural sector is directly linked to the state of a country’s food security. Without stable food production on a local level, countries would have to rely heavily on importing goods.

And as the pandemic has shown, it’s not a feasible solution in the long run. When travels were halted and international borders were closed, the food supply chain was disrupted and exposed more people to the food crisis.

Realising this, serial entrepreneur Gerard Lim started Agroz Group Sdn Bhd—an agritech company focused on using technologies to ensure food safety, food security, and sustainability in the local agriculture sector.

To improve Malaysian food supply

Speaking candidly to Vulcan Post, Gerard shared that he caught the agritech bug about seven years ago. At the time, he was leading Atilze Digital, an Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics company that implemented solutions for farmers, like smart fertigation systems.

While designing and building solutions for chilli farmers, he saw the need to use technology to improve issues and challenges in the field.

“[I] found that agriculture was using lots of dangerous chemicals, and food was not safe,” he explained. “The situation of food insecurity is worsening across the world. And many traditional farming techniques are not sustainable.”

So he launched Agroz Group in an effort to grow better produce and improve Malaysia’s food supply, using various tools like IoT, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, 5G communication, and more.

Matching demand with supply

That said, Gerard told Digital News Asia back in 2020 that the brand’s aim goes beyond farming. It is also about the best use of technology to disrupt the entire business model to match demand with supply in the food industry.

And one way the brand does this is through its controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) indoor vertical farm.

CEA indoor vertical farming refers to vertical farms that are designed with technology to provide optimal conditions for plants.

This includes the ability to control factors like temperature, lighting, and humidity to allow farmers to grow plants that might not usually be suitable for a location’s climate and weather.

Aside from that, this method of agriculture has little to no need for using pesticides as the controlled environment naturally keeps out pests, thereby making it a safer option for consumers in the long run.

Plus, CEA vertical farms can be flexibly built anywhere because there is no need for arable land. They can be on apartment rooftops, in corporate warehouses, or even inside a mall.

An educational indoor farm

In August 2023, Agroz Group opened the doors to its EduFarm-in-City in AEON Alpha Angle, a CEA indoor vertical farm that doubles as an educational spot for locals.

There, you’ll find weekend workshops and experiential learning sessions where children, students, and families can have hands-on sessions to understand how vegetables are grown from seedlings.

They can also harvest their own vegetables directly from the Agroz grow modules. You can then use these freshly harvested greens to make a bowl of mixed salads or sandwiches on the spot, showcasing the concept of farm to fork.

Some of the greens you can find there are common grocery needs like lettuce, kale, arugula, wild rocket, nai pak, and siew pak choy.

It’s one way the brand creates awareness and teaches how modern and sustainable farming can be achieved in the city. “We wanted to inform especially children and students how quality food, in particular vegetables, are grown fresh and clean without pesticides right in our neighbourhood,” Gerard stated.

At the same time, he shared that the commercial CEA indoor vertical farm also produces approximately 150kg of vegetables daily. Part of that is supplied to and sold at nine AEON supermarkets across the Klang Valley.

An ongoing collaboration with AEON

At 8,000 sq ft, Agroz’s EduFarm-in-City is said to be Malaysia’s largest indoor vertical farm inside a shopping mall. And it’s actually an idea from AEON itself.

Sharing with us, Gerard explained that in late 2021, AEON approached Agroz and several other indoor farming companies seeking proposals on what could be done at Alpha Angle.

It was only in 2022 that a decision was made for a collaboration between AEON and Agroz to design, build, and operate the EduFarm-in-City. Gerard said that having it in this specific AEON outlet made “perfect sense” too.

Located about 15 minutes from the KL city centre, it allows them to be closer to the city’s community. And AEON Alpha Angle was undergoing a physical transformation when the project started. This included the use of solar photovoltaic (solar PV) as a source of renewable energy across the mall.

It’s been about two months since Agroz’s EduFarm-in-City launched and the brand reported that acceptance has been good so far. On a daily basis, they host several dozen visitors and several workshops.

And recently in late October, Agroz introduced its Farm-in-Supermarket at AEON MaxValu Prime at Bangsar South’s The Sphere. So AEON shoppers and visitors can directly harvest their own fresh Agroz vegetables and add it straight into their shopping cart.

There’s still some way to go

With all that said and done, Gerard explained that the main goal of Agroz is to complement traditional farming with high-tech indoor vertical farms while also offering solutions to embrace technology in traditional farms.

Hence, helping them modernise and transform how farming can be conducted in a safer and more sustainable manner.

“Agroz’s mission is to see that traditional farmers adopt technology in their farming practices to improve quality, boost yield and productivity, and ensure consistency,” the founder stated.

Of course, it’s easier said than done as digitalising any industry will take time with adoption rates being the way they are. But on a brighter note, he shared Agroz has successfully raised funding from various strategic investors and institutions.

“This has placed us on a strong footing financially as well as charted our pathway to an IPO on Nasdaq in 2024.”

Learn more about Agroz Group Sdn Bhd here. Read articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Also ReadLearn how to leverage cloud solutions for your biz by joining this free webinar in November

Featured Image Credit: Agroz Group Sdn Bhd

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