Road to Sustainable Urban Farming: The 3 Features of Ladang Mini ISB in Universiti Malaya

From growing bean sprouts to nurturing a farm, Aisyah Maisarah, also known as Sera, never imagined she’d have her own modern parody tale of Jack and the Beanstalk in 2023, earlier this year.

Sera is a second-come-third-year student studying biotechnology in Universiti Malaya. Her field of study branches off from the ISB department, which is short for Institut Sains Biologi. Naturally as a part of the Faculty of Science, ISB offers facilities that would bolster students’ ambitions in their respective research interests. One of which, has unknowingly become a fixture of Sera’s student life in UM. 

As a life-long learner, Sera’s hobbies include business ventures. In her free time, she is also an avid fan of conducting experiments pertaining to agriculture which began her journey paved with adorable goats and protein-wielding flies.

The young woman explained that she had too many bean sprouts after a successful cultivation in her dormitory.

As she didn’t want them to go to waste, she was inspired to seek possible tauge-loving animals on campus.

Surely there must be one somewhere, right?

One thing led to another– there was the discovery of a little kandang tucked and hidden away off-road between tall buildings, where Sera found kambing bellies to fill. Her experience as the treasurer of the Biotechnology club tingled then– what about a fundraising event for both the club and farm maintenance? This idea seemed plausible as Ladang Mini ISB was also part of the Science Faculty’s research facility. Since then, with the help of her lecturers from the biotechnology department, Ladang Mini ISB became open for business to others outside of the faculty.

“I’m truly grateful for the support and dedication of the lecturers who helped bring this idea to life, particularly Dr. Adilla and Dr. Hidayah.”

Thus, the bean sprouts have carved a path for Sera as founder and project director, “Farm Visit @ Ladang Mini ISB” in collaboration with the farm staff, committee, and lecturers.

Feature 1: Making our own goat feed

We asked Sera and the wonderful staff members to share what are some of the roles that the farm fulfils. Among the features highlighted, one that stands out is the making of their home-made goat feed, which is done by staff member En. Azman. 

The process is started by the collection of expired atta flour (which is the main ingredient used in making chapati, naan, and paratha) sourced for free from a local distributor. Then, a round of filtering is done to acquire the best grains, which is then mixed with commercial feed so as to ensure enough nutrition supply for the farm animals.

Machine to shred the napier grass (right), machine to make the pellet shaped feed (left)

Drying napier grass to be processed into goat feed pellet

This process has shown to produce a feed that reduces as much as 78% of commercial pellets, and hence it not only saves costs, but also promotes sustainability through the repurposing of expired atta flour which would have otherwise been thrown away.

Feature 2: Compost fertiliser

Another of their farm features is using goat faeces and organic waste to produce compost fertiliser for the farm’s trees. This is because the farm boasts of many fertile fruit trees such as durian and rambutan along its premises, whose fruits are sold when in season.

In attempts towards climate action, the farm staff uses compost fertiliser which is made from goat faeces and organic waste. This inspires a sense of circular economy. The wastes’ nutritional value varied each time as it depended on what waste was available and used for each batch. By selling the compost fertiliser as well, they have another added source of income to help further maintain and extend the farm.

Feature 3: BSF farming to compost organic waste

The third feature to realising sustainable urban farming in University Malaya lies in the hands of tiny little creatures known as Black Soldier Fly (BSF). Sera, alongside an expert from the biotechnology department, Dr. Hidayah, showed us how BSF is bred in one of the barns of the mini farm. 

The BSF life cycle begins from a container (breeding box) filled with soybean processing waste, where tiny larvae are seen clumped up in one corner. Dr. Hidayah explains that once the larvae turn into a darker shade, they are moved to an aviary construction.

BSF larvae contain high amounts of protein which aids in better eggshell production when fed to the farm chickens. At the same time, the farm would be less dependent on imported feed which is both costly and less environmentally-friendly. 

Considering that BSF relies on organic waste to continue its life cycle, these magnificent creatures become a valuable and sustainable protein source for livestocks in Ladang Mini ISB.

Pros & cons of mini urban farming

Here are some of the good and bad of managing an urban farm that Sera felt propelled to share. 

The Good– a mini farm in the middle of a bustling urbanscape is a good place to start if there is any. It is hard enough to come by a spacious and affordable lot where you can establish farm-related constructions. Therefore, Sera advises you to start small and connect with your surroundings. Try researching to see if there are “farms” that already exist within your vicinity. 

In Sera’s own unique experience, applying a new approach to an already existing space makes the journey a lot smoother. Simultaneously, Sera has been able to connect with lecturers and students that are interested in being involved with Farm Visit @ Ladang Mini ISB.

A group of students visiting our mini farm to learn fun facts about fish aquaculture, chicken farming, goats, sheeps, and rabbits

Feedbacks from our lovely visitors

The Bad– it is inevitable to be met with challenges and constrictions. The ambitious and young Sera, for example, has a lot of ideas underway that are constricted by budgeting. However, this does not stop Dr. Hidayah from applying for grants while Sera hunts for sponsorships. There is also a lack of manpower and committal issues which hinders the progress of sustainable projects and maintenance of the mini farm (e.g., upgrading wooden pens, applying automatic goat feeders and cleaning fish tanks).

An example of an old wooden pen fencing that needs to be fixed due to holes

Final thoughts

In her endeavour to overcome said challenges, Sera hopes to attract more students to participate in Ladang Mini ISB activities. This is because the ladang also offers students the opportunity to utilise the space to plant their own vegetables sustainably, in efforts towards climate risk reduction as well as food security purposes.

The general public is also welcomed to visit the lovely goats, sheeps, and chickens that reside within the mini space. However, Sera expresses that her team must work towards the tightening of biosecurity to ensure the safety of both animals and visitors alike.

Thus, this is Sera’s little modern rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk so far, and let’s cheer on Sera and Ladang Mini ISB’s community as they continue their journey in climbing to greater heights and reaching their goals high as the sky. The kambings, for one, hope to see you come baa-y-y-y!  

For more information about Ladang Mini ISB and Sera, follow @ladangmini_isb_um and @syahrxn on Instagram.

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Alisha Zahra
Alisha Zahra

Alisha and Syahmeen are university students studying their degrees in English Language and Linguistics and Environmental Studies respectively. They are both Sera’s friends, as well as Ladang Mini ISB’s newsletter writers. The duo is keen on playing a more active role in sustainability efforts (as much as Sera is).

Alisha Zahra (left) and Syahmeen Nordin (right)

Alisha and Syahmeen are university students studying their degrees in English Language and Linguistics and Environmental Studies respectively. They are both Sera’s friends, as well as Ladang Mini ISB’s newsletter writers. The duo is keen on playing a more active role in sustainability efforts (as much as Sera is).
Follow @alilysha.x and @meenrdn on Instagram.

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