MINISTER of Primary Resources and Tourism Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali bin Haji Apong yesterday gave a thumbs up to a new local agrotech startup which combines traditional farming methods with information communication technology (ICT) to help grow fresh vegetables at home with ease.
MADGrow Tech has set up its headquarters at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) in Jalan Menteri Besar, turning the former gym/lounge area at the ministry into an office and workspace, which now houses a greenhouse and several ongoing aquaponic and experimental vertical farming projects.
The minister highlighted the growing trend of technology usage in farming during his speech at the launch.
“Every day in the news, you see and read about the emergence of different kinds of innovative agricultural technologies around the world. This increasing trend in developed and developing countries alike only proves that we should also take an early jump on this as well. This is in line with our ministry’s aspiration to introduce modern technology to increase productivity and growth in the agricultural sector,” the minister said.
Collaborating with MADGrow Tech, the Agriculture and Agrifood Department under the MPRT, he said, “has embarked on a path towards upgrading the lifestyle of communities in Brunei Darussalam. The introduction of modern agricultural technology used in urban farming here today will hopefully trigger interest among new entrepreneurs to venture into and see farming as a viable way to earn a living.
“The Agriculture and Agrifood Department believes that this project has the potential to turn Brunei into one of the providers of urban farming technologies in the region. Ultimately, the goal is to progress into being able to mass produce high quality, fresh organic produce – be it fruits or vegetables – to satisfy the country’s food requirements, and to improve agricultural productivity through the application of modern farming technologies,” the minister added.
This aspiration, he said, “will improve our competitiveness and export potential, and will then contribute to our economic growth which is also in line with the Strategic Plan 2016-2020 of the MPRT.”
MADGrow Tech has set its sights on becoming a major agrotech player in Brunei, and with guidance and support from the Agriculture and Agrifood Department, hopes to build on this ‘data-enabled agriculture’ practice – a farming method making use of environment sensors, mobile computing, wireless communication and drone imaging.
MADGrow Tech Founder and Managing Director Wan Mohammad Syazwan bin Mohammad Hijazi said, “Today’s launching (of MADGrow Tech) could not have come at a more opportune time, especially with His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s motioning for efforts to transition the agricultural sector towards a state of self sufficiency during a titah last week at the 14th Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations at the International Convention Centre.”
Recalling the process involved in MADGrow Tech’s inception, he pointed out, “The journey started in late December 2016 when I assembled my core team. The first three months, we kept in touch, sat down a few times, brainstormed and constantly kept in touch via social media.
“I officially registered our company in February 2017. Initially, we were hoping to build our FarmBot on a rooftop at a chosen building; sadly, however, our proposal was never entertained, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us.”
FarmBot is a one-of-a-kind CNC farming machine from a California-based company. The firm provides all the necessary hardware, electronics, software and tools required to assemble the machine here in Brunei, and has selected MADGrow Tech as the focal point for the conducting of all FarmBot-related activities in the Southeast Asian region.
The first shipment of the farming robot went out on April 2017, with only 350 FarmBots making it to various parts of the world (Brunei currently has two of the first-generation FarmBot Genesis). MADGrow Tech has already started making orders for the second-generation FarmBot, which will ship out later this year.
“Between March and April we held meetings with the Director of Agriculture and Agrifood. Alhamdulillah, this room along with other resources available at our disposal is proof that the meeting went extremely well.”
“By mid-April, we had moved in to this area, which used to be a gym/lounge area. In late April our FarmBot arrived in Brunei, and in May, we wanted to build a raised scaffolding structure but eventually abandoned the idea mainly due to safety,” Wan Mohammad Syazwan explained.
“By June we had decided to build a greenhouse and came up with a design – things really started rolling after that. It took us a fair bit more time than we had expected, as we had to sort out the plumbing, wiring and materials for the building works, and we were understaffed with only three of us overlooking the project – my other two team members were holding full time day jobs.
“However, we managed to pull through eventually and what you see here today is the fruit of our labour.”
Also present at the launching were permanent secretary and deputy permanent secretary at the MPRT; directors and senior officers under the ministry; invited guests; and members of the media.
For more information about MADGrow Tech, please visit their website at www.madgrowtech.com.
Image and coverage courtesy of Borneo Bulletin