Dunya Habitats team at the CSI Climate Ventures space

Dunya Habitats: Increasing Food Security with Tiny Farms

As we’re navigating a global pandemic and a just, green recovery, we want to amplify the stories of those that are working harder than ever for a low-carbon future. We’re profiling each of our 16 ventures in Earth Tech – CSI Climate Ventures’ accelerator for startups and nonprofits working on climate and freshwater solutions.

The story of Dunya Habitats is several generations long. Founder and CEO Sugeevan Shanmuganathan’s father, Arun, was a former agricultural officer from a smallholder farming family in Sri Lanka. In his retirement, Arun often visited the local market in Jaffna, where he observed a young man selling produce. He learned this man was only there every few weeks, because his family’s land was small and their produce would often perish due to pests and droughts. Hearing this story rekindled Arun’s passion for higher-yield, efficient farming practices based on the latest advances in sustainable agriculture.

Arun passed this passion for sustainable agriculture and social impact down to his kids Sugeevan and Sumi. It became the driving force behind Dunya Habitats.

Dunya – which translates to “earth” in many languages – is an agricultural technology company that provides modular climate-controlled hydroponic farming solutions.

A family operation: Team Shanmuganathan

“Dunya Habitats was established to support our vision to help minimize food scarcity issues in Indigenous and refugee communities,” explains Sugeevan Shanmuganathan. “It was inspired and remains inspired by our earnest desire to find a technology that not only addresses the problem of global food insecurity but provides a livelihood.”

The culmination of these efforts is their innovative product: Dunya Habitats (aka “Tiny Farms’). Inspired by the construction of a beehive, the habitat snaps together for easy assembly, maximizes use of space and can be scaled as needed.

And in a time of frequent droughts and unstable climate conditions, Dunya’s products aim to deliver a solution that will minimize crop loss and increase food security. Currently, they are working with Canadian farmers to ensure the product receives testing under the most rigorous conditions. Subsequently, they’ve received global attention from UN agencies like FAO, WFP and UNHCR that are working to support food security programs in the face of water scarcity and depletion of arable land.

Food security in a changing climate

Dunya Habitats' Tiny Farms
A close-up of one of Dunya Habitats’ Tiny Farms

Climate change is impacting growing seasons, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for supply chains to adapt to consumers’ changing demands and trade barriers. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the challenges that Dunya Habitats addresses.

“There is an opportunity for tech to lead in innovation of new methods in agriculture to not only mitigate against climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to also strengthen local food systems.”

But it hasn’t been easy. Dunya’s biggest obstacle as an early-stage startup has been in raising funds. With a lot of hard work, they’ve secured investments to support their research and development costs. They are also working hard to scale by applying for as many grants and competitions as possible.

“The Earth Tech program has been a valuable asset for our team,” said Shanmuganathan. “The advice we’ve gotten has been a tremendous help in guiding us over the last few months. I’m grateful to be part of the program at CSI.”

Working with their Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Trevor Coleman, Dunya was able to navigate a number of issues, and continue to grow even amidst the challenges of COVID-19 by closing a small but key seed investment and building a commercial prototype. They’ve also met fellow entrepreneurs that they can lean on for support and guidance.

Despite these challenges, the Dunya team continues to make headway with established collaborators here in Canada and further afield in Europe and Africa. And Shanmuganathan holds on to optimism.

“I stay motivated by the idea that Dunya Habitats can one day help smallholder farming families around the world in growing, feeding their families, and supporting their communities in prospering.”

Learn more about Dunya Habitats here.

Learn more about Earth Tech and meet the other ventures here. Earth Tech is made possible because of our partners: RBC FoundationBullfrog PowerVancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB), and WWF-Canada.