S05E13: Kaniza Shafie, Co-founder of Kebun Kota, Malaysia

When we talk about farming, we don’t have to talk about acres anymore. We can talk in terms of square meters, we can talk in terms of square feet, which the yield is high sufficient for our family to consume. So this is what I’m looking at. That is the architect training in me. If let’s say I have, a front garden of 20 square feet, what can I produce? 

kaniza shafie

Today’s episode is with an entrepreneur from Malaysia, Kaniza Shafie. She is the co-founder of Kebun Kota in Kuantan, Pahang.

kaniza shafie kebun kota kuantan pahang malaysia
“Sustainability is an attitude,” says Kaniza Shafie who advocates for micro-farming in Malaysia.

We started by talking about her farm, Kebun Kota which supplies fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits to her cafe, Roots. Roots is a community cafe, built on the farm-to-table concept and encourages the community to converge and engage with locally- and sustainably-made products.

Her farm, Kebun Kota provides all the fresh produce she needs (even fish such as tilapia) for her cafe. 

Kebun Kota today is a thriving 14-acre farm whereby in the past, it used to be a quarry.

Kaniza is proud that she and her husband, Dr Muhklis Chua, regenerated this brownfield – a tract of land that is polluted and abandoned – into an eco-friendly urban farm and agriculture research centre that she lovingly calls Kebun Kota (which means “city farm” in Malay).

They created a sustainable, closed-loop food production system that combines traditional aquaculture with hydroponics in a symbiotic environment.

Kebun Kota started in May 2012 as a spin-off of their company, Intergranite, focusing on innovation in agriculture. The urban perma-aquaculture farm is located at Kuantan, Pahang on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. 

Kebun Kota received the Malaysia Good Agricultural Practices; Aquaculture Sector certification two consecutive times since 2015, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Department of Fisheries Malaysia. 

In this interview, Kaniza talks about why she feels so strongly about food security and optimizing land space for growing vegetables and fruits which she believes is do-able even if one lives in an apartment or small house with a tiny garden.

She also speaks about her childhood, growing up in the kampung with her large family and being the eldest in the family. She also speaks about being more intentional about her life now that she’s 58 and what she truly desires to do with her life and business. She’s someone who believes that it is important to stay true to oneself and become a person of substance. 

I’ve always been brought up to take up responsibility. My priority was my five children and the well-being of my family. I took 10 years off work and I worked from home. This was during the late 90s to mid-2005 that I worked from home.

She believes that micro-farming (farming in apartments and home gardens) and smart farming (using aquaponic units) are the way of the future. But more than that, we also spoke about women, technology, intentionality, learning how to say no, being true to ourselves and getting back to the core of our humanity.

She is inspired by “​​my father for showing me the infinite knowledge I can acquire from reading books at a very young age.”

​​I’ve always been very stubborn in a way to stay true to what I think, how  I see myself and how I want to be. I don’t really measure myself so much or be pressured. Oh, you are a senior architect, you should be driving this type of car. All the things that are expectations of society. I don’t buy that because I think my work should speak for itself. 

Kaniza is trained as an architect, having graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Architecture (Hons) from the School of Architecture, the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. She led the design and technical teams before starting her own business in architectural services and building construction. She is a mother of five grown-up children.

Her favourite read is How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen; she says that BTS is her favourite music group because of “what it stands for; a hope for future in sensible young ones and for being influencers from the east showcasing our common values.”

Connect with her: 

If you have enjoyed today’s episode, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast app. Or share this episode with a friend.

Thank you for listening, I appreciate you and I’ll see you next Friday for the BONUS episode of Season 5! 

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