December 2, 2022

Hydroponics is a technique of rising crops with out soil. It’s a sort of horticulture and a subset of hydroculture that includes rising crops with out soil, utilizing water-based mineral nutrient options in aqueous solvents as an alternative.

It’s on the core of what Salad Bar by Phytopia is all about. Based in 2019, it has been on a mission to carry agricultural applied sciences again to those that want them probably the most, the frequent folks.

Going again to the grassroots

The group started with 5 members; a lecturer and 4 of his former college students all from Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, Jeli campus (UMKKJ). 

The 5 have been Mohd b. Mahmud (Mansor), Muhammad Firas Hamizan Hassan, Zaid Azri, Maizatul Vanizha, and Syamil Hazeem. 

Nevertheless, co-founders Zaid and Syamil later pursued careers in bio-industrial know-how and are not a part of the group at Phytopia. 

Mansor has been a lecturer with UMKKJ for 14 years. He graduated from Wageningen College, the Netherlands, in plant pathology and greenhouse know-how.

Moreover being passionate in regards to the agrifood system, Mansor turned one among Switzerland’s Thought for Meals Basis regional ambassadors in 2020.

This was to additional help and promote actions within the agrifood scene, particularly inside Southeast Asia. The founder is now pursuing his PhD in agricultural provide chain threat administration. 

In the meantime, Faris is at present pursuing his Grasp’s in meals know-how whereas juggling his full-time obligations of overseeing the day-to-day operations of Phytopia. 

In 2014, Mansor’s thought of social entrepreneurship was sparked when BBC featured in an article a social entrepreneur who revolutionised menstrual well being for ladies in India. 

Following that, throughout his journey to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the lecturer witnessed a way of life that was borderline poverty.

“It made me realise that I wasn’t contributing as a lot as I might have favored to the betterment of the nation, seeing as I used to be an academician specialising in agriculture,” shared Mansor. 

It seemed just like the universe agreed with Mansor’s self-discovery too. In 2019, a chance offered itself when he obtained an invite from MaGIC (now often called MRANTI) to attend a Social Enterprise Bootcamp for 2 weeks in Cyberjaya.

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Picture Credit score: Salad Bar by Phytopia

He reached out to Firas to carry alongside associates who is likely to be , a transfer which additionally led to the duo changing into the co-founders of Phytopia. 

“Even earlier than the inception of Phytopia, we knew the issue we needed to resolve. It was poverty and agrotechnology,” shared Mansor. 

In shortlisting their choices, the group determined to concentrate on the city poor within the Projek Perumahan Rakyat housing across the Klang Valley.

“However the issue then was cash. To start with the idea, we wanted at the least RM20,000, an quantity none of us had, and making use of for a mortgage was not an possibility,” stated Mansor. 

They believed going into debt to start out a enterprise is rarely a good suggestion. Therefore, after consulting with their mentor, the group realised that they needed to undergo a collection of channels earlier than remodeling the concept right into a actuality. 

So first, their mentor advised, “Return to your group, again to the group the place [you] belong.”

Beginning with salad

Upon their return from the bootcamp, the group determined to shelve the concept first.

Nevertheless, later, Mansor got here throughout an article about meals insecurity amongst college students. In line with him, a complete of 60% of scholars in native universities don’t follow a wholesome consuming way of life. 

“With some analysis, I discovered that a lot of the inhabitants in Jeli depends on oil palm and rubber plantations as their main supply of revenue,” defined Mansor. 

Armed with a goal, Mansor contacted Faris and collectively the duo lastly discovered an answer to the issue. They might work on creating each the demand and provide on the identical time. Farmers would create the availability, and the campus group would create the demand. 

“Primarily based on my expertise in agriculture extension providers, we determined to go together with the best know-how, which was hydroponics,” stated Mansor. 

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In line with him, the know-how has been in Malaysia because the 70’s, however adoption for this was sluggish. With the intention to outsource farmers, the co-founders needed to show that the know-how may truly yield outcomes. 

“We developed our first MVP, a chilly salad bowl. We needed to check the demand for wholesome meals first,” added Mansor. 

Picture Credit score: Salad Bar by Phytopia

Coincidentally, the college additionally organised a biannual occasion, Agriculture Expo. The group determined to take the chance and opened up a pop-up sales space. 

They have been ultimately offered out inside a couple of hours of operation.

Hydroponics as a basis

Of their first part, the group launched the farmer companions with hydroponics know-how or Nutrient Movie Approach (NFT). 

In line with Mansor, NFT saves 90% of water and is 3 times extra productive than standard farming strategies. 

Nevertheless, its limitation contains its suitability just for leafy greens equivalent to romaine or butterhead lettuce. That is because of the shallow channel that may’t help fruiting crops with an intensive rooting community. 

Over time, the group experimented with Deep Movement Approach (DFT) and efficiently grew cherry tomatoes. 

“As of now, we’ve got helped our farmers develop romaine, butterhead lettuce, Brazilian spinach, cherry tomatoes, and rockmelon. Virtually all menus in our cafe have these produce as the primary ingredient,” shared Mansor. 

Picture Credit score: Salad Bar by Phytopia

The co-founders developed their cellular unit primarily based on understanding the fundamental idea of the proper water circulation, depth, and measurement to maximise worth. 

From farm to salad bar

The group designs the hydroponics system, sources the supplies themselves, and assembles the system. 

The capability of the system relies on the situation of the farmers. For instance, farmers with more room may have bigger models and vice versa. 

Nevertheless, as a micro enterprise with restricted capital, the group can solely subsidise smaller models.

“Farmers who request for bigger models must fork out their very own cash, or in a particular case, be matched with sponsors by way of grants,” added Mansor. 

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In the mean time, Phytopia has two teams of farmers—pupil farmers and common farmers. 

Because the identify suggests, pupil farmers are sometimes sponsored by the college, which permits them to make use of deserted models.

“Moreover subsidising and supplying them with the bodily system, we additionally present steady technical and know-how help till they will stand independently,” shared Mansor. 

At present, the group has 5 models. Two are operated by farmers in Jeli, whereby one produces leafy greens solely whereas the opposite produces leafy greens and cherry tomatoes. Yet another farmer produces rockmelon, however because it’s a seasonal produce, he doesn’t do it full-time.

Picture Credit score: Salad Bar by Phytopia

One other three are positioned in UMKKJ, managed by pupil our bodies. They produce leafy greens solely. The Salad Bar by Phytopia pupil employees will course of all of the produce into wholesome and balanced meals. 

“The employees are explicitly chosen amongst college students from the B40 teams. It’s both they or their household have been recipients of Zakat or Bantuan Sara Hidup,” Mansor added.

As for enlargement plans, Phytopia is at present within the midst of constructing SHIP 2, which can also be in its R&D part. SHIP 2 is the clever model of standard hydroponics models, and may have sensible monitoring features. 

“The most recent collaboration is with Universiti Malaysia Perlis to develop an clever system. The aim of that is to develop low-land strawberries,” defined Mansor.

What began as an answer to deal with farmers’ low revenue has grown into a lot extra, and the developments the Phytopia group has seen are reassuring.

In spite of everything, the co-founders imagine that for any know-how to be accepted, it should obtain its set main targets first. 

“Many sensible system tasks in Malaysia have been unsuccessful due to the target mismatch between suppliers and beneficiaries,” summed up Mansor. 

Thus, one may say they’re heading in the right direction.

  • Study extra about Salad Bar by Phytopia right here.
  • Examine different Malaysian startups right here.

Featured Picture Credit score: Salad Bar by Phytopia