Thursday, November 21

Big money in modern farming


The great view from the highest point of the farm.

DR Stanley Kong is a former varsity lecturer. He is 36 and looks like any other ordinary young man with one notable difference – he dares to dream big and he works very hard to achieve his dream.

“This is my chilli padi farm. I have 1,000 trees here. Chilli padi is a very hardy plant – there is no need for netting,” he said, pointing to a small field cultivated with tiny plants.

“I’m getting RM400 per day from these chillies. I formulate my own fertilisers and the plants are watered, using the fertigation system. My water source is from the hills,” he added.

Kong has suggested introducing chilli padi farming as a viable crop to diversify the incomes of local farmers.

“To make it affordable for kampung farmers, I have come up with a new formula for fertiliser. Fill a bag with two-thirds sand and one-third compost waste from mushroom farmers.

“Using coconut husks can be very expensive and the chilli plants can easily be uprooted by wind,” he explained.

Planting chilli padi with the fertigation system can generate a good income.

Modern farm

As we started walking around the farm, Kong insisted we must go to the highest point of his family land for me to understand his masterplan.

Work is progressing steadily at his farm. Kong employs five labourers and two diploma holders to help him.

“My family bought this land in 2012. We started by buying a three-acre plot. We acquired 6.3 acres in 2015, then bought another 10 acres our neighbours,” he said while we negotiated the hilly terrain in his four-wheel drive vehicle.

Upon reaching the top, he showed me an empty plot.

“This is where I plan to build my house. The land is quite small but look at the view,” he said before sharing his vision to turn the farm into a tourism attraction.

In fact, Broga town near Semenyih, Selangor, where Kong’s farm is located, is a booming agro-tourism spot for visitors from China. They come in the thousands as early as 5am daily to climb the hills and catch the sunrise.

Hungry and thirsty after the morning hike, these foreign visitors will fill up the many eateries in Broga.

The main menu? Fried chicken and ikan bakar. By the way, Broga is in Negeri Sembilan, not Selangor.

Fresh figs ready for the market.

Kong said he is supplying his ‘fruity’ tilapia to these eateries at a premium. He offered to grill some fillets of his special tilapia for me to taste and differentiate the flavour from that of ordinary fish.

As we went down the slope, Kong proudly showed me his healthy growing pandan coconut trees. Though still very short, some had already started to flower.

“They’re not ordinary coconut trees and the fruits fetch a premium price in the market,” he said, pointing to other fruit trees such as kaffir lime, kedondong (ambarella), durians, and herbs planted on a scenic landscape.

Kong points at a fig in the greenhouse.

Fresh fruits

As we went further down the slope, Kong stopped his truck and got out to open the gate of the greenhouse enclosure.

“I have 1,000 fig trees. We are now producing 150kg of fresh fruits per month and selling them around RM52 per kg. They are snapped up within minutes at Pasar Tani,” he said.

The sales of fresh figs generate a monthly income of RM7,000 for Kong. There are not many fig growers in the country.

“The fruits that do not pass our QC (quality control) will be processed into fig juice and pickles, and preserved in jars,” he said, adding that figs are an important ingredient of his fish pellets.

Nurazaidah and Puteri show the empurau.

Concrete tanks

As we returned to the base of his farm, Kong brought me to the area where he keeps his fish tanks.

There are many concrete tanks of various sizes at his farm. The biggest ones are 16 feet 1wide, 70 feet long and 1.2 metres deep. Kong keeps 2,000 Empurau in one tank.

The fish weigh around 1.5kg to 2kg each and are normally sold at RM300 per kg.

“These are Empurau babies, and once they reach two inches long, they are sold at RM5 each. Each tank contains 10,000 fry and buyers come from China, Indonesia, Thailand and, of course, Malaysia,” he said, adding that some of his buyers are from Sarawak.

Grilled tilapia – Broga’s most famous lunch menu item among tourists.

Apart from Empurau, Kong also produces ketutu, patin buah and udang galah fry.

He also rears jade perch, which fetches RM35 per kg while patin buah is normally between RM80 and RM120 per kg.

Most of the fish are sold at premium prices.

In fact, the Implementation Coordination Unit (ICU) of the Prime Minister’s Department approached him recently for technical advice.

Kong is also helping the Negeri Sembilan government with a fisheries project. And he is more than happy to share his commercial experience with the Sarawak government.

“My fish are famous in China and have appeared on their TV for having a fruity taste,” said Kong who formulates his own fish feed.

A protégé

For Nurazaidah Muhammad, who graduated with a Diploma in Aquaculture from Jeli Polytechnic, working with Kong has taught her more than what she learned in college.

“I learned to do artificial insemination beside basic care of fish, marketing of agriculture produce at Pasar Tani, dealing with bulk buyers, and the latest farming technology,” she said, adding that she enjoyed working at the farm.

Nurazaidah stressed that working for modern farm is very different from working at a traditional farm.

“We don’t handle dirt. Hygiene is one of the most important aspects of modern agriculture. The fish water is changed daily.

“We also observe strict quality control when packing fig fruits or plucking chilli padi.”

Kong stands beside a flowering coconut tree.

Knowledge acquisition

Meanwhile, Puteri Fazalinda Mohd Fudzi, who graduated with a Diploma in Agriculture Science from University College of Agroscience Malaysia, thanked Kong for recruiting her to work at the farm.

“I have acquired a lot of knowledge not taught in school. Here, we do everything under Dr Stanley’s guidance. We also experiment with new things like producing fig juice and fig pickles. The most important thing is knowing how to do them right.”

Puteri said they work five and a half days per week, and normally after delivering the agriculture produce to pasar tani on Sundays, their job is done for the day.

Apart from fish breeding, she has also learnt fertiliser and fish feed formulation, irrigation system and farm management from Kong.

Nurazaidah with freshly plucked chillies at the farm.

Long-term vision

Kong said he has received many emails from young Sabahans and Sarawakians interested to work at his farm.

“I think, the time has come for the Sarawak government to start modern farming on a large scale and employ local agriculture institute and varsity graduates to give them hands-on experience in running a modern farm.

“Once they know how to manage a modern farm, they can start their own, create more jobs for young Sarawakians and generate good incomes for themselves and the country.”

Noting that Sarawak has abundant swathes of vacant land, he suggested, “Please invite your minister to come to Broga and see how this place has been turned into a tourist destination by promoting nature and agriculture.”

He said Sarawak has great potential in this area, adding, “You have so much to offer such as ikan empurau.”

Kong can be contacted via email at [email protected]