Farmacy's Raymond Mak on Why Urban Farming Is a Smarter Way to Feed Hong Kong
The former accountant who turned his sights to urban farming, says that Hongkongers don’t know what they’re missing when it comes to the produce available in the city
Instead of stacking crops vertically in an industrial setting, Farmacy offers Smart Mobile Farms that look more like an art installation than an agricultural technology, and the company partners with supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, schools, offices and residential developments to install them.
The farms are entirely self-contained and automated, allowing anyone to grow their own salad leaves and herbs in a city that imports over 98 percent of its agricultural produce; plants grown this way use 90 percent less water than traditional farming and completely avoid pesticides.
Before establishing the company, Mak was a consultant with PwC. Here, he explains why he believes in urban farming.
Working at PwC excited me at the beginning of my career. I was working on big projects with high-level strategy and planning, not only talking about them but implementing them. But when I got to a senior role, I asked myself: do you want to want to keep advising people to improve, or do you want to do it yourself? I decided that in the next stage of my career, I wanted to challenge myself by working on something new that I was passionate about, while driving change in society.
I went to study the impact of industry on a village in mainland China. What really moved me was when they hosted us. The villagers were poor—they just have the vegetables they grow—but I still remember that dinner: they were the best vegetables I’ve ever eaten. It redefined my idea of what it means to be rich or poor. They’re poor but they have something we don’t have in Hong Kong—so how can I bring that to Hong Kong?
When we talk about harvesting, nutrition degradation is very high with fruit and vegetables, and you pay high prices for them. It doesn’t make sense [that produce is expensive but low-quality], but people don’t know and take it for granted. Before the new towns were built [starting in the 1970s], Hong Kong was 30 per cent self-sufficient; now it’s 1.7 per cent. It’s crazy. We’re talking about how to overcome this. We want to unlock every unused space in this concrete jungle for farming.
We are saving one tonne of CO2 a year per mobile farming unit. Our customers also see how we reduce food waste. Right now, supermarkets throw 40 tonnes of vegetables away a day; almost half the produce you see in supermarkets is disposed of. It’s very problematic. Our farming units reduce waste to 8 per cent.
In Asia, general awareness of this kind of sustainability is not there. People don’t really care about the source of their vegetables. As long as they can eat, they think that all vegetables are the same. Awareness changes lead to behavioural changes, but it takes time.