Good-looking and immaculately groomed, 30-year-old Arwin Muruga is incredibly eloquent and has the hipster look down pat, so when he tells you he’s a farmer, it’s almost impossible to stop your eyebrows from their inevitable ascent skyward.
“I am very, very proud to call myself a farmer. I can tell you everything about farming because I’ve done it from the bottom up,” he says.
Arwin is actually an HR trainer by profession (he still does it on and off), but despite thriving at his job, he started feeling the need to do more. “I have the right skills for it, but it is not what I was born for,” he says.
So Arwin turned to something not many of his contemporaries would: farming. Initially, Arwin and a partner started an organic chicken farm, where he was involved in every aspect, including slaughtering chickens himself!
Eventually, he gave that up and after a string of professional jobs, which he described as “prison”, he did more research into agriculture, acquired some land and started running his own organic vegetable farm in Bestari Jaya, Selangor.
“I basically had a calling – and it was agriculture,” he says. He now has 6.5ha of farmland that produces corn, sweet potatoes, long beans, chillies, okra, brinjals and bananas.
“I used to cut fresh vegetables with my bare hands and package it and send it to people. And they loved it! And that very process made me stick to the industry like a magnet, because of the feeling that I was giving a family something to eat that is ‘clean’,” he says.
Arwin’s unbridled passion for farming has gone one step further, as he is now embarking on his PhD in sustainable agriculture with a local university.
Part of what motivates Arwin, who also describes himself as an agropreneur, is the untapped possibilities in modern farming. While he has gone against the grain and become a farmer by choice, most people his age consciously avoid becoming farmers.
“Young guys don’t want to be farmers, because you haven’t given them something automated for them to control and work with. It’s not that they don’t want to make money, they don’t know how,” he says.
Arwin’s research feeds into that, and he is looking at how conventional farms can be transformed into “21st century millennial sustainable farms that use drones and minimal workers”.
Another goal of his is to make organic produce more affordable and widely available to consumers.
“In the future, you should be able to pick up fresh, leafy greens near your home, and it should be half the price of commercially grown vegetables because it costs less to produce. So reducing the cost of vegetables is something I will be looking at, and I will be trying to get it as close as possible to providing it to people for free. And it’s not a joke, I think it’s doable,” he says.
Moving forward, Arwin is also looking at developing container-based vertical farms. “One 12m container can hold approximately 1.4ha of flat land, and that’s a very low figure. So you can have a huge container in central locations and people walking in and choosing fresh vegetables like spinach and bok choy. Vertical farming is the promised future for agriculture,” he says.