KOTA KINABALU: As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the state, local farmers are facing uncertain times.
In Tenom, a district known as Sabah’s fruit basket, farmers are said to be forced to throw away tonnes of unsold produce due to the Movement Control Order (MCO).
The news caught the attention of a 48-year-old practicing lawyer, Johnny Ting of Ting & Jublee, a law firm in Kota Kinabalu.
“Besides practicing full time as a lawyer, my family loves farming and local fruits, especially my wife, Serena Yong. She loves to eat avocado. My wife travels a lot and she has tasted many types of avocados from different parts of the world.
“She once commented that avocado from Tenom is the best in the world. It’s quite often that when I buy avocado from Tenom, I will also help some church friends to buy for them to enjoy.
“I am also one of the co-founders of Sabah Durian and Tropical Fruit Planters Association and presently I am the vice-president. Through this association, I got to know many farmers in Tenom, Keningau and other parts of Sabah.
“Sometime end of March, I was contacted by a farmer friend from Tenom. He told me he got about 40kg of green avocados that he wanted to sell. He wanted to deliver to me via another farmer, as he is unable to sell due to the MCO.
“The next day, I also noticed in newspapers about some farmers in Tenom showing their fruits like pomelo and guava being wasted due to the MCO,” he said.
Johnny, who is passionate about farming, feels the pinch – and all he wants is to help them.
“That evening among family members, we discussed how could we contribute to the community during this MCO. My wife, who is currently in Hong Kong and my eldest son, Reuben Ting (22) in Kuala Lumpur joined us through WhatsApp video for family meeting.
“We came up with the idea to help the farmers in Tenom to sell their fresh fruits to our friends here in Kota Kinabalu, because we know, such fresh fruits would also bring joy and happiness to the people in the city, as fresh fruits will provide them with good health especially during MCO.
“We know of the precautions that need to be taken as we are concerned too with the threat of Covid-19 specially with young children at home,” he said.
Johnny and his children called their online business as “Biu Biu Fresh Fruits” operating from their home. It was named after his daughter, Renee’s nickname Biu Biu.
As a father, Johnny hoped his children would do something meaningful and significant that can contribute to the community during this MCO period.
“Both my son Ryan (20) and Remiel (11), and my daughter Renee (15) are very dedicated and involve in this fresh fruits business. For four occasions of deliveries since April 3rd, only myself and my son did the delivery of the fresh fruits to hundreds of houses. We have reached our maximum capacity and we decided to engage two good friends to help with deliveries.
“Renee is very diligent in recording the daily orders, issuing bills, contacting customers and even explaining the fruits to customers. We learn so much about customer service during these three weeks time. It requires absolute humility and dedication to resolve any issues that may arise due to the quality of the fruits to meet with their expectations. Though we only make mediocre profits, we are happy to be able to contribute. My children even refused to take any salary for helping out.
“I would say majority of customers are appreciative but a small number of customers would require more time and effort to satisfy their expectations and demands.
“However, we serve with sincerity and in all honesty. My family are grateful that God gives us this opportunity to serve in particular to help farmers in Tenom to sell their tropical fruits,” he said, when contacted through WhatsApp by The Borneo Post.
According to Johnny, there are two deliveries per week from Tenom.
First delivery is on Tuesday, while distribution to the city folks are on Wednesday and Thursday.
For the second delivery from Tenom on Friday, distributions will be made on Saturday and Sunday.
“We are thankful to have a very committed associate in Tenom to source the various types of fruits from more than 10 farms. We have three different grades of avocados, local regular and honey pineapple, honeydew, guava, pamelo, papaya, red and yellow watermelon, two types of banana; berangan and Pisang Sabah (pisang rebus), sweet potatoes, passion fruits and pandan coconut.
“Our bestsellers are avocado, passion fruits, honey pineapples and coconut pandan. In the last five deliveries, we have sold more than 1,500 kilos of avocados to more than 250 families in KK, Penampang and Inanam.
“Passion fruits are also very popular. Normally in one delivery we will take more than 100kg of passion fruits but it’s always not enough. Some customers are very nice they even give us home cooked foods when we delivered fresh fruits to them especially Datuk Gordon Leong, Dean Rev Ngui, Mr and Mrs Terence Lee and Mr and Mrs Samuel Sam,” he said.
At first, Johnny started his online fruits trading business by using WhatsApp as platform.
He, and his children use their mobile phone to get bookings of fruits from friends and customers who heard about them through their family members or friends.
“We didn’t expect such overwhelming response. It shows that people love our local tropical fruits. There are also outstation customers that requested us to deliver to their elderly parents in KK. We are so honoured and happy to be able to deliver fresh fruits to so many families to enjoy our own local fruits,” he said
In the past three weeks, Johnny said they had sold more than 12.5 tonnes of local tropical fruits.
As a person who loves farming, he said their slogan in the business is “every good tree bears good fruits” as reflected in Matthew 7:17.
In that respect, farmers, he said, have the duty to take care of their farm and their plants properly that these healthy trees produce good fruits, so that customers can enjoy fresh and healthy fruits.
“We do emphasise strictly on the quality of the fruits that we deliver to our friends and customers. We receive feedback with an open heart and we reflect these feedback to the farmers hoping that farmers will improve the standard and quality of their fruits.
“With this, for any spoilt fruits or that did not meet certain standard, we will either refund or replace to our customers. This practice involves lots of trust and sincerity between us and our friends and customers.
“Sabah has many delicious and healthy tropical fruits that we can enjoy with our families. Buying local fruits will help to raise the standard of living of our farmers and their children,” added Johnny.
He thanked farmers in Tenom for their dedication and commitment to harvest and to get their fruits ready for collection, and also his committed associate Mr. Woo for working so hard in coordinating it.
“It is not an easy process for more than 10 types of fruits. The journey from Tenom to KK is tedious too due to roadblocks but we have decided from day one to cooperate with the authorities.
“We want to thank Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA), Sabah branch especially its Deputy Director, Mr Sebastian Chew that has so kindly assisted us in many areas.
“He even personally came to our house to set up the canopies and provided 10 fruit baskets. We are truly indebted to him.
“Above all, we thank our family members for daily support to keep us moving forward during this MCO time. We are aware that after MCO, people will be able to go out to buy local fruits every where and then we will have to stop this venture. The children would go back to school and I would go back to practice as a lawyer.
“We thank God for giving my family this new calling to serve the community during MCO. We thank Him for His protection too especially when my son and myself who are driving and delivering to so many houses.
“We thank the police, army and Rela too that always encourage us when we told them we are sending fresh fruits. Every time we go out, we would prepare lots of fruits for them too. It’s such a joy to serve, to spread happiness and to provide fresh fruits to many families.
“We are not perfect, to certain customers that we did not fulfill their expectations, we ask for your understanding and your cooperation to make things better. Together we can win this battle against Covid -19,” he concluded