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Use industrial plantations to create regenerative food farms for sustainability, food security and climate action.

Turn organic wastes into soil carbon, animal feed and bio-fuels and divert land for optimized food production by tech-savvy entrepreneurs.

Photo of Tet Shin Ho
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Photosyn Sdn Bhd (980786-W), an applied R&D company, focused on commercialising technologies on waste biomass at Level 6 readiness.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Kinta, Kampar, Perak Tengah and Seri Manjong districts in Perak state, having a combined area of 4,372 sq km and population of 1,172,602.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

A friend has kindly permitted me to use his farms to try out ideas on regenerative farming. One 18 acre property is located on ex-tin mining land. Their very sandy texture and leached nature require copious chemical inputs for profitable cultivation of cash crops. Its mining ponds provide water to supplement rain for normal agriculture, and are used for semi-intensive inland aquaculture. My late grandfather mined tin, so restoring and improving fertility of ex-tin mining land for agricultural food production and carbon capture is a trans-generational clean up act.

The second 30 acre property is used to grow oil palm and tropical fruits on mineral soils. It also has ponds and tanks for intensive aquaculture. This farm makes an ideal showcase for sustainable agriculture, including aquaculture.

The place is very important to me, because I will begin testing here established and emerging ideas, research works and new technologies in the local context, and adapt them for use in tropical climates. In addition to using technology like nanobubbles, measurement methods and response techniques, the farms will have a novel rapid soil humus production system using animal wastes (like poultry manure) for mineral and carbon inputs to kick start soil fertility and rebuild soil carbon through root exudates and then used to recycle crop residues. The aim is to create intensive and extensive farming systems which are truly sustainable and can be adopted by diverse cultural practices.

Superior produce command price premiums. My Country Malaysia is aware of its food problems, and is looking for new ideas. Successful elements from the trials can be implemented progressively nationwide, across ethnic divides. Malaysia can then firm up the direction she has charted for its agricultural sector with success stories, upgrade her ambitions on sustainable food production and food security which contribute to climate action and achievement of the UN SDG's.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

My place is marked by mountains to the east, descending westwards through hills and alluvial plains to the coast.

Kinta (1,305 km2, 749,474 pop) is an urban sprawl, including the state capital Ipoh. Kampar, is an ex-tin mining area (669 km2, 96,303 pop), has a university campus, supported by agriculture growing oil palm, rubber, tree fruits, soft fruits and vegetable produce. Perak Tengah (1,279km2, 99,854 pop) is similar to Kampar. Manjung (1,113km2, 227,071 pop), spared of tin mining, now has many agricultural activities, including intensive broiler farms.

Equatorial tropical temperature remains fairly constant, (24°C low, 31 °C high). Humidity is often above 80%. Annual rainfall is about 3,000 mm. There are two monsoon seasons, bringing rains and occasional floods.

To the south west, there is a Semai settlement. In Malay, Semai are Orang Asli, the original people. The majority is a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indians. Many Malays orginate from Indonesia, while Chinese and Indians trace their ancestries to labour brought in by the British to work tin mines and plantation estates from the late 19th Century. Today, all have evolved to be firmly Malaysian, with its unique national characteristics and a common destiny.

The common hopes for all races are for good personal health, secure provision of daily needs, good education, opportunities for gainful employment, and social advancement. Cultural practices and family ties remain intact. Religious holidays are observed and celebrated all year round.

Cuisines have also adopted a Malaysian character due to cross cultural influences and availability of local ingredients. By using different spices, herbs and cooking methods, the tastes and aromas remain distinct. All ethnic groups now include curry in their menus, but Indian, Malay and Chinese versions are distinctly different. Due to the inherent culinary diversity, the same produce can taste dramatically different.

Through local chemical agricultural practices, herbicide and pesticide residues in imported feed ingredients and foods, westernized food and drinks, toxins and non-nutritious foods are ubiquitous in Malaysia’s food system. There is now a non-communicable disease (NCD) crisis, evidenced by obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer.

Employment encompasses a full range of economic activities ranging from the primary sector (limestone and clay extraction with a possible return of tin), manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and other services. A younger, and in many cases highly qualified generation, has moved to higher paying jobs in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and overseas. They remit income to their kin back home and return during festive seasons to patronize local businesses, especially restaurants.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Oil palm is dominant, followed by rubber, tree fruits, soft fruit and vegetables.

For short rotation crops tropical soils are less productive than temperate. Rainfall and high temperatures cause soil carbon loss, Ca and Mg deficiency, acid soils compounded by use of ammonia based nitrogen, and Al toxicity.

Climate change is here. Extended dry seasons, heavier rain storms and floods have been experienced in recent years.

On tin tailings, nutrients are completely depleted and water retention is very poor. There are about 60,500 ha of tin tailings, returned to the Government after closure of mines. Farmers either work them illegally, or are given annual temporary occupation licenses. Thus there is no incentive for long term improvement of soils, encouraging heavy chemical usage for immediate returns. Politicians have been slow issuing land titles, denying security of tenure to encourage sustainable farming practices and untainted foods.

Chicken and fish are the animal meat protein sources accepted by all three major ethnic groups. Muslims eschew pork while, non-vegetarian Hindus do not eat beef. Marine fish landings are diminishing.

The main dietary protein is cheap broiler chicken grown on GMO crops with pesticide/herbicide residues. Moreover, intensive poultry farming causes odor and fly nuisances. Planned expansion of animal husbandry will bring about increased animal manure disposal loads. Residual herbicides may cause health issues. Using chicken manure for biogas energy helps to simultaneously solve disposal, renewable energy and soil carbon problems but is presently uneconomic.

In 2015, RM51.3b of fertilizers, fruits, vegetables and grain (soy bean and corn mainly for animal feed) are imported. Local production is heavily chemical based, with emphasis on quantity and appearance, not quality or nutrition value. The small number of organic farms struggle with commodity like prices and reduced marketable produce from pest infestation. For field workers, the large plantation model provides only low wages.

The Government’s hitherto successful and lauded actions on poverty alleviation through FELDA and FELCRA has resulted in fragmented smallholdings of 10 acres each. Their aged owners are unable, or unwilling, to work the land and their offspring are attracted to higher paying urban jobs. With low commodity prices, these smallholders require substantial Government subsidies for agricultural inputs. Significant quantities are known to be resold for immediate cash.

“Middlemen” collect farm produce for wholesale markets, which sold onward to retailers, at designated markets or street sellers. Transactions remain price and not quality driven. Supermarkets are now major players in retail distribution. Using perishables to attract shoppers for high margin fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) leads to low retail and farm gate prices.

The celebratory feasts and overeating during the Chinese New Year and Aidilfitri seasons can be problematic.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Emphasize common human values of love, care and shared responsibility for others in the family and greater community, and carry out 10 inter-related action points:

1. Use chicken manure for biogas and organic fertilizer. Supplement with high carbon feed stock, e.g., oil palm biomass, waste paper, etc. "Sell" electricity based on own use tariff rates. Sell high humus organic fertilizer based on N,P,K contents at prices of permitted organic minerals and organic carbon content. This organic fertilizer cum soil amendment is a key enabler to trigger improvements to the food system. Where space permits, use organic fertilizer on-site to grow short rotation crops for human consumption and duckweed (lemmna sp) and microalgae to substitute imported high protein animal feed ingredients.

2. Address unproductive mineral soils by applying calcium, magnesium and organic fertilizer to reduce acidity of agricultural soils to around 6.5 pH, and raise Cationic Exchange Capacity to above 100 meq.

3. Upgrade tin tailing fertility by seeding with organic fertilizer, balanced nutrient dosage, accompanied by irrigation. Start cultivation of ruminant fodder as cover crop, build soil carbon through root exudations and microbial activity. Switch to food crops when soil carbon, water retention capacity and CEC reach acceptable levels

4. Allocate replanted oil palm plantations for short rotation crop cultivation for four years before leaf convergence. Treat soils with organic fertilizer, address nutrient deficiencies and soil acidity, build oil palm root mass for continuing soil carbon accumulation through root exudations and growing soil microbial population. Replanted oil palms should be significantly more robust and productive.

5. Divert marginal oil palm plantations for high value food crop cultivation by enthusiastic entrepreneurs to create high value and productive employment for those seeking alternatives to normal employment.

6. Create food and produce brands which tout sustainability and nutrition, thereby creating market preference and price stability for the upstream ingredient farmers.

7. Supermarkets to hold marketing events for branded produce and house brands to move away from low cost/low margin model.

8. Implement humane production methods for livestock, ban use of antibiotics in feed as growth stimulants, find means to de-tox livestock (especially poultry) from pesticide and herbicide residues before human consumption.

9. Construct and operate raceway aquaculture systems to avoid overcrowding, with attached hydroponics systems for effective waste water treatment and nutrient recovery. Grow high Omega 3 freshwater microalgae and purslane as on-site fish feed for a mix of tilapia and high value fish.

10. Government to prioritize availability of land and water bodies with secure leasehold tenure to those willing to invest in making them truly fertile and productive.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

1. Poultry growers have no problems disposing of the chicken manure, save money on electricity and have profitable income stream for sale of affordable organic fertilizer. Expansion of the businesses are no longer constrained by adverse Environment Protection Agency reports on fly infestation, manure disposal issues and water pollution issues.

2. Fruit and vegetable growers find the new organic fertilizer easy to use. No risk of chemical burning. No more noxious odor and flies. Balanced mineral nutrients plus high CEC from humus enables healthy crops which do not require present dosages of fungicides, pesticides and herbicides. Higher productivity and proportion of top grade produce raise income. Avoided inputs bring production costs down to be competitive with chemical agriculture methods. Supply to sustainable brands breaks the low farm price trap.

3. Profitably grown high Omega 3 fish with preferred flesh texture find their way to dinner tables, affordably priced according to species and target market segments.

4. Widespread availability of nutritious and low residual pesticide/herbicide foods at affordable prices, present victims of non-communicable disease (NCD) may recover their health, and new sufferers avoided.

5. New and fertile lands accompanied by product branding will create new and alternative employment opportunities for all the food value chain.

6. Low risk investment opportunities can be created with higher returns than bank deposits, bringing investment from urban to the rural areas

7. Issue of title deeds to present occupants of tin tailings, who in many cases have farmed the land for decades, will recognise their contribution to society.

8. A distribution chain placing value on sustainability and nutrition enables direct marketing and delivery on social media

9. Perak State Government attains its ambitions to be the country's food bowl.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?


1. Qualifications

I hope my Vision qualifies by being optimistic. Optimistic to the point of becoming annoying to my audience brings about persistence. Persistence is required to face failures, continued rejection and contradictory information and then to understand the causes and resolve them. More importantly, it enables refinement of ideas to meet the desired outcomes in the face of new knowledge.

In the case of this Vision, persistence enables devising a plausible plan to navigate the myriad of organisations and gatekeepers. They, who have heard these things before, need to know how the idea under consideration, a small subset of the Vision, impacts their organisational KPI’s and personal agendas. Otherwise, the default answer is no.

On this premise, I submit my vision as a plan of what can be done here at My Place, for My People, and also for My Country to implement and share with the World.

2. About Food Malaysia

My Place and My People are located in Peninsular Malaya, which together with Sabah and Sarawak, make up the country of Malaysia. 

Tourism, inbound and local, is the major economic activity many Governments want to promote. This sector has the characteristics which promote excellence of performance because it is benchmarked against international competition. Managed properly, it is a sector whose activities can incorporate, and be used to achieve, all of the UN’s sustainable development goals. There are copious volumes of information on this at the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) and related websites.

“Malaysia Truly Asia” is the tagline of Tourism Malaysia, the Government’s promotion arm. Beyond the outwardly similar fabric of modern buildings, accommodation, touristy activities and photo opportunities, we find the myriad variations of Asian food. Because of the economic imperative, if nothing else, our Government is driven to preserve the variety and diversity of My Country’s prepared foods. It is in the diversity of prepared foods where Malaysia is Truly Asia when it hits the eyes and taste buds. So, My Government has yet another incentive to keep the food system vibrant and sustainable.

3. Key Actors

Experience has shown that an unbridled “Free Market” promoted by Neo Liberalists cannot be entrusted entirely to deliver any sustainable food vision. My Vision calls for a profit motivated “Private Sector”, with high ethical and moral standards and an eye on the UN's SDGs, responding to economic realities at home and abroad and the calls of a knowledgeable and caring Government, to deliver the outcomes.

In the latter aspect, My Country has been fortunate. Our Government, recently elected in May 2018, is a sea change. Despite the usual grumblings, there is evidence that the elected politicians and parties influencing Government and its agencies’ decisions have risen to the needs of the day. We see a shift from reliance on economic growth funded at the expense of Government borrowings hidden behind contingent liabilities. We see the short term pain of increasing minimum wages being inflicted on the private sector, in exchange for the social equity and spending power. We see rationalising of the solar power sector to benefit SME’s and householders and mobilise private investment to supplement those of the “big boys” and other incumbents. We see acknowledgement of the problems we have in our food security and actions taken to set the stage for the private sector to step in. We see admission that we have a serious problem with under nutrition and upsurge in micronutrient deficiencies and diet related non-communicable diseases (NCDs). We see admission that the decades old policies on food self sufficiency based on quantity must be replaced by emphasis on quality.

It is these sightings that have brought about a hope that My Place and My People can bring about a sea change to bring our food system to an altogether higher level.

4. Success stories for emulation

The key success story in Malaysian agriculture is the plantation system. It started with rubber and moved on to oil palm. Its scope encompassed the entire upstream eco-system, from obtaining the land, raising capital to finance planting, crop management and produce marketing. Most importantly, system included developing and managing downstream applications which are essential to ensure marketability and continued expansion. Adaptations of the plantation system and its downstream components can therefore be the foundations to build an improved food supply.

Malaysia has success stories in branding too. Think of shoes and there is a man who gave his name to the brand. On a less illustrious level but relevant, we have food dishes prefixed by a place name. Ipoh bean sprouts? Kampar chicken rice? Both from My Place These and more illustrate what can be achieved to spread the word on the cuisines of My Place and My Country

5. Malaysia’s food chain and possible changes

Palm oil is an export oriented crop own consumption as food within our borders is a miniscule proportion. But, what if we considered the oil palm fruit as material for highly nutritious food? After all, the Nigerians have done it for millennia before it being processed industrially.

The oil palm industry faces headwinds from overproduction as a result of overzealous response to bio-fuel mandates originating from the USA and EU. Change of land use and carbon emissions from operations block increased palm oil use as a renewable bio-fuel.

Possibilities, rhetoric questions.

1. Palm oil production becomes carbon negative by growing microalgae on biogas digestate?

2. microalgae as animal feed and human food ingredients, feedstock for renewable bio-plastics and bio-fuels?

3. Treated digestate used to restore topsoil?

4. Add required macro and micro mineral nutrients to reduce pH, Al and Fe toxicity, build microbial life and more soil carbon through root exudations for carbon sequestration?

5. Improve plant for disease and insect resistance?

6. Release locked up previous chemical mineral inputs by the shift in pH and microbials?

7. Use treated digestate on other lands and address known deficiencies in the cultivation of rice, and other cash crops like fruit and vegetables?

8. FMCG brand owners and Plantation sectors co-operate in afforestation and riparian reserve conservation?

9. What if the oil palm plantations and mills look at over 100 million tonnes of biomass (dry basis) produced annually differently?

10. Use them to grow microalgae as the third crop after rubber and oil palm?

11. Mixed cultures of microalgae qualify as animal feed on proof of non-toxicity?

12. Downstream petrochemical industry use microalgae to develop drop in replacements for fossil oil in fuels and plastics?

13. Can our neighbours in Indonesia do the same?

Chicken manure is another agricultural waste in abundance.

14. Turn chicken manure is similarly turned into energy via biogas systems and use the residue like those from palm oil mills?

15. Is this a major step in recovering and recycling ammonia as nitrogen?

16. Will this significantly reduce the urea requirements and carbon footprint of animal husbandry?

17. What if chicken manure is re-cycled via microalgae and plants with almost heterophic growth rates and high proteins for use as animal feed?

18. Can similar ideas be applied to cattle and swine feedlots, worldwide?

These two are the biggest changes envisaged for the Malaysian food system, and they are to start the ball rolling. The task of building linkages is a feature of the plantation industry. Can this be repeated with microalgae?

Oil palm mills and broiler farms can be found all over the country, within easy reach of farming communities. Once soil organic amendments and organic nitrogen are available, it becomes more effective to implement schemes to address calcium and magnesium shortages and leaching, soil acidity, aluminium toxicity, insect infestations, soil erosion, full sunlight exposure to crops for full expression of valuable metabolites and ripening. Even current “fringe” technologies such nanobubbles for crop cultivation, animal husbandry and food preservation, paramagnetism, and many others, can be brought into play.

In short, the way is open to eliminating chemical residues in our food chain, and birth of a new class of foods, “zero residue”. And with superior nutrition qualities too.

6. Markets

To entice farmers to switch to new methods, there must be a price premium willingly paid by the end consumer. This would normally be our major urban areas with higher incomes. We can also export to Singapore with its high spending power.

Once we get export procedures down pat, we can look towards other Asian countries like Japan, China, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc,

7. Distribution

Existing distribution chain can remain in place, and upgraded to new standards of hygiene, sanitation, etc.

8. Marketing

The availability of “zero residue” foods opens up a new category to compete with the existing “organic” labels. Marketing companies can take the initiative and start their supply chains without compromising existing brands. Exceptional growth can be expected from awareness of the real benefits.

With help from like minded friends, old and new, realization of financially viable, shared and progressively ambitious visions will happen.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

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Summary of key strategies and requisites for success


Join the conversation:

Photo of Thu Nguyen

Hi Tet Shin Ho 

Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!

Since the Prize asks you to imagine the food system in 2050, we encourage you to think more about vision than solution. How might you evolve your Vision to make it more inclusive and systemic for your local food system and its numerous stakeholders (farmers, consumers, traders, nutritionist...)? Could you explain more how your Vision will address the six interconnected themes: Economics, Diet, Technology, Policy, Culture and Environment in an integrated way? What would life in the selected regions look like in 2050? Be careful that your vision isn't predictable progress tied to a "solution" - but rather is a bold aspiration that inspires a movement.

Make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.
Here is the link to the pocket guide:

Look forward to seeing your submission finalised by 31st January, 5:00 pm EST

Photo of Tet Shin Ho

Good morning. After reviewing my submission in light of your comments and the guidelines, I decided to leave it intact. It appears to be the style of writing in which we differ in opinion.

Thank you.
Ho Tet Shin