Vertical Farming in Malaysia

Topic : Possibilities of Implementing Vertical Farming in Malaysia Based on Environmental Degradation and Rapid Urbanization
Written by : Yasmin Rahman
Future Vertical Farm Malaysia Asia

Vertical Farming has caught much attention within the past decade.  Malaysia has still plenty of land to farm but the current conventional farming methods have contributed to a great imbalance in the ecosystem. The aim of the study is to investigate the environmental potential of an experimental idea called a Vertical Farm by Dickson Despommier to be implemented in Malaysia. Investigation of the environmental potentials a Vertical Farm can offer has been thoroughly studied through articles and online recorded interviews. On the contrary, the current environmental aspects caused by intensive conventional farming methods that contribute towards environmental degradation in Malaysia has been overviewed. Their comparison has been analyzed in a systematic manner and comments have been included  to rationale and revise accordingly. The results concluded that indeed a Vertical Farm would significantly reduce the strain on the environment and gradually improve our ecosystem in Malaysia. But nevertheless the amount of energy to maintain and construct such an advanced structure will need to be further revised by future researches as it may contradict to the environmental improvement altogether.

Statement of the Problem
Conventional farming contributes to an imbalance in the ecosystem. A lot of emphasis has been given in Agriculture as it still plays a very important role in the development of Malaysia. Too much perhaps, that it causes thousands of acres of forest land to be ploughed up sacrificing thousands of acres of land.

Malaysia is slowly uplifting its awareness towards a sustainable green future. If traditional farming methods continue, it might be too late for our priceless tropical ecosystem to recover, therefore alternative farming methods need  to be revised.

Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study was to investigate the current environmental issues pertaining to agriculture in Malaysia and how the implementation of a Vertical Farm could benefit the environment.  From the investigation, it is expected to raise awareness of our rapidly growing population regarding the  current environmental impact of extensive agriculture in our country. This investigation was done by, first, exploring the provocative theory by Dickson Despommier. Consequently, concluding the rationale of implementation through comparing both the conventional and vertical farming methods.

World Population Growth and Agricultural Demand
As of 2011, the human population reached an astonishing amount of 6.8 billion people. Over 800 million hectares of land, which is approximately 38% of the total landmass of our earth is committed to produce crops to support its growing population. That is an astonishing amount of 80% of earth’s available land. It is equal in size to South America to grow food and raise livestock. This is an astounding agricultural footprint. To make things worse, it is predicted that by the year 2050, the human population is expected to rise to 10.6 billion as reported by United Nations (2004), requiring an additional 2.1 billion acres of land to feed them if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. This quantity of additional arable land, approximately the size of Brazil is simply not available. (Despommier & Ellingsen, 2009).

The world population is predominantly urban. By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centres. In approximately 5 years, 153 of the world’s 358 cities will have more than one million inhabitants, 15 of them will be in Asia (Kunzig,2011).

Urbanization and Population Growth in Malaysia
After Independence in 1957, the rate of urbanization in Malaysia is on the increase, from about 25% in 1960 to 65% in 2005 and is expected to exceed 70% by 2020 (Siong H.C. 2008). The rate of urbanization in Malaysia has been very rapid since the 1970s. Today, 68.2%  (or 17.6 million) of all Malaysian live in towns and cities, a relatively high level of urbanization for a Third World country. By the year 2020, 70% of the country’s population will be urban with an estimated total urban population of 40.6 million people (Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 2000). In Peninsular Malaysia alone, 80% of the people currently occupies urban areas. Rapid urbanization has had consequences for the distribution of population and huge demands on land, water, housing, transport and employment.

Vertical Farming
The concept of indoor farming is not new. What is new is the urgent need to scale up this technology to accommodate another 3 billion people. Vertical farming is a concept that argues that it is economically and environmentally viable to cultivate plant or animal life within the confines of high-rise buildings.

One of the earliest drawings of a tall building that cultivates food for the purposes of consumption was published as early as 1909 in Life Magazine. This proposal can also be seen in Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York. Other architectural proposals that provide the seeds for the Vertical Farm project include Le Corbusier’s Immeubles-Villas (1922) and SITE’s Highrise of homes (1972).  Contemporary precursors that have been published, or built, are Ken Yeang’s Bioclimatic Skyscraper (Menara Mesiniaga, built 1992); MVRDV’s PigCity, 2000; MVRDV’s Meta City/ Datatown (1998-2000); Pich-Aguilera’s Garden Towers (2001).

Ken Yeang is perhaps the most widely known architect according to Smithsonian Magazine (2011) that has promoted the idea of the ‘mixed-use’ Bioclimatic Skyscraper which combines living units and opportunities for food production. He proposes that instead of hermetically sealed mass produced agriculture, plant life should be cultivated within open air, mixed-use skyscrapers for climate control and consumption. This version of vertical farming is based upon personal or community use rather than the wholesale production and distribution plant and animal life that aspires to feed an entire city.

The latest and most provocative version of this very idea is Dickson Despommier’s ‘The Vertical Farm’ which emerged in 1999 at Columbia University.

Vertical Farming Historical Timeline

Dickson Despommier
Dickson Donald Despommier  is a microbiologist, ecologist and Professor of Public Health and Microbiology  in Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University, NYC since 1975. Despommier is an infectious disease ecologist studying the ecological demands for the spread of  the West Nile Virus, malaria and trypanosomiasis. He teaches courses on Parasitic Diseases, Medical Ecology and Ecology.

In recent years, Despommier has received considerable media coverage for his ideas on vertical farming. There are hundreds of interviews, talks, magazine spreads and even exhibitions around the world promoting this widespread idea.

He argues that ‘vertical farming’ is legitimate due to environmental reasons and purports that the cultivation of plant and animal life within skyscrapers will produce less embedded energy and toxicity than plant and animal life produced on natural landscapes. He claims that natural landscapes are too toxic for natural, agricultural production. This is despite the ecological and environmental costs of extracting materials to build skyscrapers for the simple purpose of agricultural production. (Despommier & Ellingsen, 2008) Plant and animal life are mass produced within hermetically sealed, artificial environments that have little to do with the outside world. In this sense, they could be built anywhere regardless of the context. This is not advantageous to energy consumption as the internal environmental has to be maintained sustain life within the skyscraper.

Using advanced greenhouse technology such as hydroponics and aeroponics, these skyscrapers could theoretically produce fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables.

With graduate students in a medical ecology class, Despommier developed the concept of vertical farming in 1999. He had originally challenged his class to feed the population of Manhattan (About 2,000,000 people) using 13 acres (5.3 ha) of usable rooftop gardens. The class calculated that, by using rooftop gardening methods, only 2 percent would be fed. Unsatisfied with the results, Despommier made an off-the-cuff suggestion of growing plants indoors, vertically. The idea sparked the students’ interests and gained major momentum. Mass media attention began with an article written in New York magazine. Since 2007, articles have appeared in The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, Popular Science, Scientific American and Maxim (magazine), among others, as well as radio and television features.

Despommier authored the 2010 book The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century (ISBN 978-0312611392).

Urban farming has much inspired many of our projects, this include:

& one of our latest design, a Vertical Farm Research Institute, in Putrajaya, Malaysia ;

Our Manifesto Series 02 focuses on issues pertaining to the current global food production. In this series, Farming, we question the possibilities of architecture as a mechanism to manifest a greener food source. For more info about the publication, please visit MANIFESTO 02 – FARMING


In March 2013, our interview on vertical farming has been featured as a cover story in the New Straits Times, RED Section.

mdrxa vertical farming NST Malaysia Asia
For more info please visit, Newspaper Articles