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Hong Kong growing urban farming tech

The green movement is a growing revolution across the world and particularly Hong Kong. A part of this change is the ground-breaking farming technology that cuts lengthy supply chains to allow easy access to fresh produce rich in nutrients and bursting with flavour.

A Hong Kong-based urban farming technology company launched in January 2018, has been offering herbs, microgreens, and edible flowers to restaurants, hotels and home cooks. It will take things to the next level in a couple of weeks with the launch of its first “mobile farm”.

Using hydroponic technology, the greens will grow in-store so that consumers know exactly where their food is coming from – they can actually see their vegetables as they grow. The pilot mobile farm will be launched in mid-August at an organic convenience store in Sai Kung.

Hydroponic basically refers to the way that the plants absorb nutrients, which is through water instead of soil. The start-up uses organic nutrients bought from the United States which has US Federal Drug Administration approval and adds it to water. An advantage of indoor farming is that it is extremely sanitary and water-saving.

Soil-based farming often sees the loss of a lot of water (which goes underground), hydroponic farming saves 90 per cent more water.

Hong Kong imports an astounding 98.3 per cent of its vegetables, with 70 per cent of the imports coming from China and 28 per cent flown in from around the world. All the emissions involved in getting our greens into Hong Kong is a massive black mark in terms of sustainability – and it’s also bad for health.

Another issue is that as soon as produce is harvested, the roots stop supplying water to the leaves and stem and the plant start losing their nutrient content. A benefit of a mobile farm is the ability to buy greens with the roots still intact, take the produce home and use it while it’s still fresh.

The start-up’s team have been using the Causeway Bay operation for research and development and a base in Cyberport to develop the mobile farm technology.

Beyond the hydroponic technology, the team is developing even more sustainable and efficient farming technology, but they’ve taken it slow the first year to develop their understanding of the crops they are growing.

According to an earlier report, a hi-tech vegetable farm in Hong Kong’s Tai Po district is thriving inside a converted factory building and produces four tonnes of lettuce, wild rocket, endive and cabbage for salads each month.

Its workers, most of them in their 20s and 30s, tend to neat rows of racks, each 30cm tall and 10 tiers high, filled with potted greens lit by low-energy light-emitting diode (LED) lamps and connected to fish tanks on the floor.

Instead of shovels and hoes, they work with computers and drones. The farm’s co-founder noted that they farm with technology, not ploughs. This is farming 4.0.

This start-up offers a glimpse of the future of farming by harnessing technology and using less space than traditional, long regarded a sunset industry in Hong Kong.

Primary industries, mainly comprising farming, fishing, mining and quarrying, accounted for HK$502 million last year, a tiny fraction of the city’s total gross domestic product of HK$2.65 trillion.

But the start-up’s co-founder, who is optimistic about the prospects for aqua-farming, said that Hong Kong is a service-based city, but still needs healthy food. This is a viable business in Hong Kong because of the demand for healthy produce and the growing awareness of food safety.

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