A pinboard by
George Ng

I have a Doctorate in Biotechnology and I'm a machine learning expert based in Hong Kong


UN projects world population at 9.1 billion in a single generation.

Greater Food Production

The additional 2 Billion mouths to feed means a surging demand for food - production is expected to increase by 70% in the world and by100 % in the developing countries. Using traditional farming to meet our future food demand is unsustainable and needs a fresh approach.

Reduction in the arable land and the litany of food scandals have reduced trust in domestic food and increased the appetite for imported foods, case in point is China's grain and meat imports from Mozambique to Missouri. In addition, agricultural use of pesticides is responsible for 15% of world carbon emissions.

Fresh Approach

The fresh approach is Indoor Farms (IDFs), growing high quality and fresh produce right where it's consumed. However, while local produce is known for quality and freshness, they cost more. Regardless of farm size, some costs are unavoidable hence, the larger the farm the lower the cost-per-acre to operate that farm. In Richmond, USA a quart of organic strawberries at the farmers' market costs an average of USD 6.50, whereas organic berries distributed by Driscoll costs around USD 3.59 a quart in-store.

Don't Believe It?

IDFs and their ability to produce all year round at scale mean greater revenues. In a Cornell universities' report outdoor lettuce farmers harvest 5 times, compared with indoor farmers' 18 times annually. According to the USDA, the average price per pound of conventionally grown head lettuce was USD 0.29 in 2015, indoor farmers reported revenues of USD 6.00 per pound and indoor vine crops growers reported revenues of USD 1.13 per pound. Up to 10x for lettuce and 2.5x gains for tomato growers.

What Are The Opportunities?

The Pegasus Agriculture Group has established a futures fund to combat food security. Its main goal is reducing Dubai's dependence on food imports focusing instead on building and developing operations globally.


Companies like Plenty grows food in indoor warehouses and claims to grow up to 350 times more than conventional farming.



Testing the environmental performance of urban agriculture as a food supply in northern climates

Abstract: The past decade has seen a renaissance of urban agriculture in the world's wealthy, northern cities. The practice of producing food in and around cities is championed as a method to reduce environmental impacts of urban food demands (reducing distance from farm to fork - ‘food miles’) whilst conferring a number of ancillary benefits to host cities (runoff attenuation, urban heat island mitigation) and ex-urban environments (carbon sequestration). Previous environmental assessments have found urban agriculture to be more sustainable than conventional agriculture when performed in mild climates, though opposite findings emerge when external energy inputs are significant. In this study we perform an environmental life cycle assessment of six urban farms in Boston, US producing lettuce and tomatoes, with conventional counterparts across six impact categories. Performance of urban agriculture was system dependent and no farm provided superior performance to conventional for all indicators. High-yield, heated, greenhouse production of tomatoes has potentially higher environmental burdens than conventional methods in terms of climate change (267–369%) and non-renewable resource depletion (108–239%), driven primarily by external energy inputs. Heated lettuce production systems showed similar trends. Low-tech, empty-lot farming appears to hold some advantages in terms of climate change burdens and resource use, though water and land usage was found to be elevated relative to conventional lettuce and tomatoes. Open rooftop farming apparently provides benefits if high yield crops (e.g. tomatoes) are cultivated, otherwise significant capital inputs detrimentally affect environmental performance. In general, the benefits of reduced food miles may be overwhelmed by energy inputs and inefficient use of production inputs. A comparison of urban agriculture and solar panels showed that the latter would confer greater benefits to mitigate climate change per unit area. Thus, urban agriculture may not be the optimal application of space in northern cities to improve urban environmental performance.

Pub.: 05 Jul '16, Pinned: 19 Jun '17

Rooftop production of leafy vegetables can be profitable and less contaminated than farm-grown vegetables

Abstract: Urban agriculture may solve issues of feeding urban populations. In China, for example, densely packed mega cities will continue to expand in number and size, necessitating increasing food miles. Interestingly, it has been estimated that the total rooftop space in China is about 1 million hectares, some of which can be converted for rooftop farming. Yet, despite some favorable reports on urban farming, the Chinese commercial sector has shown little interest. This may be explained by the dearth of data comparing urban and conventional farming. Therefore, we present here a feasibility study of hydroponically grown vegetables in a rooftop screen house in Guangzhou, China. From December, 2012 to May, 2014, we tested the production of seven leafy vegetables that are easily perishable and are not well suited to long-distance transport. We calculated the production cost and measured biochemical parameters. Results show that levels of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and crude fiber were comparable to market counterparts. None of the roof hydroponic vegetables exceeded the maximum residue limit for lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, or nitrate. In contrast, 5 of 98 market vegetables were contaminated by exceeding the maximum residue limit for lead. Similarly 3 were contaminated for arsenic, 23 for nitrate, and 2 for organophosphate or carbamate insecticide. Compared to high-end vegetables sold on the market, rooftop-grown vegetables were competitive in cost and quality. Given that many countries have limited arable land to feed a large population, the widespread adoption of rooftop hydroponics could help expand the total area available for food production as well as meet the rising demand for safe high-quality vegetables.

Pub.: 01 Jul '16, Pinned: 19 Jun '17

Multifunctionality assessment of urban agriculture in Beijing City, China.

Abstract: As an important approach to the realization of agricultural sustainable development, multifunctionality has become a hot spot in the field of urban agriculture. Taking 13 agricultural counties of Beijing City as the assessing units, this study selects 10 assessing index from ecological, economic and social aspects, determines the index weight using Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) method, and establishes an index system for the integrated agricultural function. Based on standardized data from agricultural census and remote sensing, the integrated function and multifunctionality of urban agriculture in Beijing City are assessed through the index grade mapping. The results show that agricultural counties with the highest score in ecological, economic, and social function are Yanqing, Changping, and Miyun, respectively; and the greatest disparity among those counties is economic function, followed by social and ecological function. Topography and human disturbance may be the factors that affect integrated agricultural function. The integrated agricultural function of Beijing rises at the beginning then drops later with the increase of mean slope, average altitude, and distance from the city. The whole city behaves balance among ecological, economic, and social functions at the macro level, with 8 out of the 13 counties belonging to ecology-society-economy balanced areas, while no county is dominant in only one of the three functions. On the micro scale, however, different counties have their own functional inclination: Miyun, Yanqing, Mentougou, and Fengtai are ecology-society dominant, and Tongzhou is ecology-economy dominant. The agricultural multifunctionality in Beijing City declines from the north to the south, with Pinggu having the most significant agricultural multifunctionality. The results match up well with the objective condition of Beijing's urban agriculture planning, which has proved the methodological rationality of the assessment to a certain extent.

Pub.: 19 Aug '15, Pinned: 19 Jun '17

Exploring the production capacity of rooftop gardens (RTGs) in urban agriculture: the potential impact on food and nutrition security, biodiversity and other ecosystem services in the city of Bologna

Abstract: The present work, focusing on the theme of food production and consumption in urban areas, analyses the relationships among three factors: city, human well-being and ecosystems. A case study was carried out addressing the quantification of the potential of rooftop vegetable production in the city of Bologna (Italy) as related to its citizens’ needs. Besides the contribution to food security of the city, the potential benefits to urban biodiversity and ecosystem service provision were estimated. The methodology consisted of: 1) experimental trials of potential productivity of simplified soilless systems in rooftop gardens (RTGs); 2) detection of all flat roofs and roof-terraces and quantification of the potential surfaces that could be converted into RTGs; 3) identification of the city’s vegetable requirements, based on population and diet data; 4) calculation of the proportion of vegetable requirement that could be satisfied by local RTG production; 5) identification of other benefits (improvement of urban biodiversity through the creation of green corridors and estimation of carbon sequestration) associated with the increased area of urban green infrastructure (GI). According to the present study, RTGs could provide more than 12,000 t year−1 vegetables to Bologna, satisfying 77 % of the inhabitants’ requirements. The study also advances hypotheses for the implementation of biodiversity roofs enabling the connection of biodiversity rich areas across and close to the city: these would form a network of green corridors of over 94 km length with a density of about 0.67 km km−2.

Pub.: 10 Oct '14, Pinned: 19 Jun '17

Urban agriculture of the future: an overview of sustainability aspects of food production in and on buildings

Abstract: Innovative forms of green urban architecture aim to combine food, production, and design to produce food on a larger scale in and on buildings in urban areas. It includes rooftop gardens, rooftop greenhouses, indoor farms, and other building-related forms (defined as “ZFarming”). This study uses the framework of sustainability to understand the role of ZFarming in future urban food production and to review the major benefits and limitations. The results are based on an analysis of 96 documents published in accessible international resources. The analysis shows that ZFarming has multiple functions and produces a range of non-food and non-market goods that may have positive impacts on the urban setting. It promises environmental benefits resulting from the saving and recycling of resources and reduced food miles. Social advantages include improving community food security, the provision of educational facilities, linking consumers to food production, and serving as a design inspiration. In economic terms it provides potential public benefits and commodity outputs. However, managing ZFarming faces several challenges. For some applications, the required technologies are known but have not been used or combined in that way before; others will need entirely new materials or cultivation techniques. Further critical aspects are the problem of high investment costs, exclusionary effects, and a lack of acceptance. In conclusion, ZFarming is seen as an outside-the-box solution which has some potential in generating win–win scenarios in cities. Nevertheless, ZFarming practices are not in and of themselves sustainable and need to be managed properly.

Pub.: 25 May '13, Pinned: 19 Jun '17

Designing productive landscapes in an emerging desert metropolis: The Case of Doha

Abstract: Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum Proceedings, Volume , Issue 2013, November 2013. As Qatar is preparing to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and submitting a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, the country is pushing forward with large infrastructural developments which include public and private transport, tourism and hospitality venues, as well as a number of cultural spaces and educational institution. While these will respond to the logistical and consumption needs of such Mega Events and the aspirations to develop a diversified economy, another question related to more basic consumption needs is that of Food Production and Food Security. The State of Qatar - similar to its dryland neighbors - faces limited land and water resources, and challenging soil typology restraining its agricultural production. Qatar relies on current levels of domestic agricultural output that satisfy no more than ten percent of total national food consumption needs and 99% of the water supply is provided by desalination. In the light of these extreme conditions, it is important to find new approaches to design strategies that create a symbiosis between buildings and landscape, and to explore the possibilities of creating urban food systems and edible landscapes. As a new paradigm for the Design Disciplines, the question of Food Security prompts a necessity for innovative projects that integrate food production, maximizing productivity and minimizing land use, water and energy resources. A "systems approach" to design that consumes less resources, recycles waste, and educates the consumer to have a more "nimble" footprint on the planet is the objective of new design approaches that are "regenerative" in nature. Productive urban landscapes are implementations of this regenerative approach, which promote circular rather than linear systems, and which seek to generate surplus outputs rather than zero-energy balance. The edible landscapes vary in scale and typology, from the garden lot and pocket community garden or greenhouse, to the large scale landscapes that combine food production and leisure, and vertical farming in dense cityscapes. Rooftops of shopping malls and parking infrastructures and other industrial buildings can accommodate greenhouses and greenroofs, using recycled grey water and organic waste with aquaponic systems to grow food. A series of speculative designs to propose new scenarios for Food Urbanisms in Doha and Qatar developed by students at Qatar University are presented here, and this ongoing research on new productive landscapes for Qatar is expected to contribute to the establishment of new "consumer-productive landscapes" and possibly to the development of a Food Security Master Plan being established by the Qatar National Food Security Program.

Pub.: 22 Nov '13, Pinned: 19 Jun '17

Food Ecologies in Qatar. Interdisciplinary approaches to sustainable systems: Food prints, food chains & food urbanisms

Abstract: Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum Proceedings, Volume , Issue 2013, November 2013. The desert climate of Qatar presents numerous challenges to the sustainable and secure provision of food for its increasing number of residents. This research looks at how the producing of food can be implemented in a resource efficient and sustainable way, using systems thinking to maximize the quality and quantity of food produced and to minimize the energy and resources consumed. Approached from a spatial and urban design and planning perspective, this research looks at the different ways that Food Production can be integrated into the cities and landscapes of Qatar, both in new projects and in regeneration or retrofitting projects. The Method of research looks at international trends and case studies to see how they can be applied to the context of Doha and Qatar. The importance of systems thinking implies that the food product is evaluated and measured in its total chain, as well as the energy and resources consumed and recycled. Another important aspect, which complements the quantitative measures, is the quality of the food produced, and the quality of the urban landscapes that result from the implementation of edible plants and trees. Increasingly, we are becoming aware of the importance of pesticide and additive free nutrition and these new ways of producing food must also provide more harmonious environments and balanced diets. Results. A number of case studies developed with students in the Masters in Urban Planning Design at Qatar University developed scenarios to implement different food systems into the urban and architectural landscapes of Qatar, from individual gardens in compounds and villas to vertical farming in high rise buildings, and from University Campuses to reclaimed waste water ponds. Conclusions. New Food Ecologies for Qatar imply that we not only design our buildings and landscapes in new ways to integrate the production of healthy food and medicinal herbs, but that these new visible ways of nourishing the populations includes an embellished environment and a more aware and discerning approach to the consumption of food, in short, a more holistic relationship to what our bodies consume.

Pub.: 22 Nov '13, Pinned: 19 Jun '17

The Economics of Vertical Farming: exploring the feasibility

Abstract: Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum Proceedings, Volume , Issue 2013, November 2013. Today, over 800 million hectares of land is committed to soil-based agriculture in order to support the World's population. Significantly, it is predicted that the World's population will rise to at least 8.6 billion within the next 50 years. This, together with the implications of climate change will inevitably lead to challenges in terms of food shortages if we continue to rely on conventional agricultural methods. As such, vertical farming may provide one of the most promising advanced options for meeting food demands in terms of quantity and quality through an urban farming solution. This is particularly the case in countries with very large urban populations, limited agricultural land, prone to natural disasters, or unable to meet their own food requirements. Vertical farming typically involves hydroponically or aeroponically growing plants in an artificially controlled environment in multi-layers on each floor within multi-storey or even high-rise buildings. The concept of vertical farming has been drawing unprecedented attention from academia to business communities for the past decade. However, despite a number of obvious advantages it has yet to progress beyond conceptual stage except a few experimental small scale examples existing in developed countries. The largest barrier to the promotion and realization of vertical farming is not the availability of technology or the ability to design and construct such a structure but the uncertainty of its economic feasibility. As such, can investors and developers make an acceptable profit and can the consumer afford the price of the produce' Although a few architects, engineers and economists have attempted financial calculations based on capital budget or operating cost, they have tended to be crude and based on certain particular circumstances or case-by-case study. This has resulted in significant limitations particularly the fact that these attempts cannot be transplanted to other cases or places. These different calculation methods are presented and analysed in this paper. More importantly, the design of vertical farms can be various, but it needs a 'benchmark' to provide more realistic economic costing. For any potential investor or developer, it may be preferable that a more accurate budget estimation is obtained at the very beginning to inform decision-making. However, the dilemma is, without detailed design drawings, the estimation is likely to be inaccurate, beyond a specific tolerance. Indeed, because the vertical farm is a relatively new building typology, without much statistical data there is no current 'cost model' for reference. Based on an elemental cost plan method, this paper proposes a modeling method for vertical farm cost estimation. The paper will outline and analyse various variables that may circumstantially influence the total budget of a vertical farm in different phases (design, construction and operation). Methodological considerations are also illustrated in terms of data resource, model validation, model transferability (re-usability of integrated modeling approaches to other research contexts) and linking of model components. Keywords: vertical farming; economic consideration; cost estimation; modelling methodology; design benchmark.

Pub.: 22 Nov '13, Pinned: 19 Jun '17