The rapid pace and scale of urbanization in many emerging market countries around the world is a cause for concern among urban planners, development economists and government officials, as well as utility and transportation services providers and those involved with managing natural resources and protecting the environment. Looking to address their concerns, an international group of experts will draw attention to a “smart eco-village” that’s been built in Malaysia, a model, sustainable community consisting of “affordable homes, high-tech educational, training and recreational facilities, and a creative, closed-loop agricultural system designed to provide both food and supplementary income for villagers.” Project developers, officials of the NY Academy of Sciences and the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Science Advisor will present details of the smart eco-village at a special meeting of Malaysia’s Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC) in San Jose today. In addition to developing additional smart eco-villages in Malaysia, they believe the concept and design “provides a potential global template for addressing rural poverty in a sustainable environment.”
Self-sustaining smart eco-villages: Addressing rural poverty & rapid urbanization
Spreading across some 12 hectares (~29 acres), the model smart eco-village of Rimbunan Kaseh lies northeast of the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. In addition to 100 affordable, energy-efficient homes, community infrastructure includes a four-level aquaculture system and solar energy, biomass and mini-hydro systems to generate electricity. The homes themselves, each about 100 square meters (1,000 square feet) in area, took just ten days to build. Reclaimed “post-consumer” materials have been reused in their construction. Their total cost: between $16,000 and $20,000. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are the primary source of electricity for smart eco-village residents. Biomass and mini-hydro also contribute to meeting their energy needs.
The four-level aquaculture system is another core facet of the model community. At the top level of the system, water cascades through a series of tanks in which “fish sensitive to water quality, then tilapia (‘the world’s answer to affordable protein,’ says GSIAC’s Dato’ Tan Say Jim,)” guppies and lastly, algae are raised. The guppies and algae are food for the larger fish.
Filtered wastewater from the fish tanks is used to irrigate trees, grain fields and other crops, which include flowers and fresh produce. The plants “are grown individually in novel hydroponic devices” dubbed “auto-pots, a three-piece plastic container that automatically detects soil moisture levels and waters plants precisely as required, reducing needs for costly fertilizers and pesticides, as well as water,” a joint news release explains. Organic waste is composted to foster growth of worms and other organisms, which free-range chickens feed on along with home-grown grains. Besides providing eco-village residents with a reliable supply of healthy food, the aquaculture-hydroponic farming system yields agricultural products that supplement their income by an estimated $400-$650 per month.
“It is a complete loop; a modern farm — one that could even exist on the rooftop of a building,” Mr. Tan commented. In addition to his work with GSIAC, Tan is employed by IRIS Corporation Berhad, the organization lead managing the public-private partnership that’s developed the model community.
Community social facets of the smart eco-village include a community hall, resource center, places of worship, playgrounds and educational facilities equipped with 4G Internet service that provides e-learning and e-healthcare services.
“With this project we stimulate rural growth with modern agriculture activities, we balance development and economic activities between the urban and rural areas, we provide income and we improve living standards,” Mr. Tan stated.
Along with GSIAC, the international group of experts gathered in San Jose believe the smart eco-village can serve as a template for similar communities to be developed not only in Malaysia, but around the world. “This model offers a great opportunity to create holistic change for people in the worse circumstances in Malaysia and other nations as well,” commented Ellis Rubinstein, president and chief executive officer of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), which co-chairs the GSIAC Secretariat with the Malaysian Industry-Government Group on High Technology(MIGHT).
“Integrated smart communities could transform services available to Malaysia’s citizenry while creating thousands of jobs, complementing GSIAC’s unprecedented alliance to improve education in that country at every level from ‘Cradle to Career’.”
GSIAC itself is a multinational organization made up of volunteer leaders in education, economics, business, science and technology experts from Malaysia, China, India, Russia, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, the UK and the USA. It was formed “to help the Asian country achieve an environmentally sustainable, high-income economy driven by knowledge and innovation.” Photo credit: Rambunan Kaseh/GSIAC/MIGHT