Monday, July 14, 2008

Agriculture entrepreneurs to the fore

Source : News Straits Times
Posted on 20-12-2007 in Invest Penang

AS THE nation's third engine of growth, the agriculture and agro-based industries are fast being recognised as an increasingly vital part of the economy.

From padi farming to livestock breeding, fisheries, flowers, vegetables and processing industries, efforts are under way to develop new technologies and methodologies to increase yields and maximise profitability.

Under the New Agriculture Programme, the Government has pumped in RM11.4 billion to bolster the sector further, giving birth to new agro-entrepreneurs.

The programme also nurtures existing and aspiring farmers by giving them support and numerous incentives.

As a result, these entrepreneurs continue to thrive and are a part of a new generation of smart agro-entrepreneurs, achieving success throughout the nation. They are expected to contribute to Malaysia's future progress.

Under the New Agriculture Programme, one such agro-entrepreneur is Melon Master Sdn Bhd owner M. Kaliyannan, who delves in melon and fruits production.

From humble beginnings 30 years ago, Kaliyannan's family venture has grown to become a true master of melons.

Today, the Perak-based company is the country's leading wholesaler and exporter of all types of melons such as water melons, honeydew and rock melon, as well as exotic melons such as Jade, Black Beauty and Sun Lady.

The secret of his business lies in the integration of production and distribution activities as well as rigorous research and development.

In fact, his dedication to science and technology has earned him a name in the "Malaysia Book of Records" as the first in the country to produce square watermelons.

"I first started on a 2ha plot of land which has expanded 100-fold to over 200ha now, spanning all over Perak, employing 70 workers," said Kaliyannan.

Sungkai-based Melon Master, which is certified by the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry, now produces 1,500 tonnes of melons a year worth RM1 million in sales (depending on current market prices).

Out of the 1,500 tonnes, 20 per cent is exported to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Melon Master supplies local hypermarkets, mostly in its original form and not in the processed form.

"I get good support from the Government which provides me funding, technical expertise and chemical fertiliser. The challenges are huge due to the competitive nature of the industry.

"The business is also capital intensive and I have to reinvest whatever money that I make. Land is also expensive, so I have to lease right now to grow three seasons of the melon a year," said Kaliyannan.

Another entrepreneur, Bandar Agro Spice Industries Sdn Bhd managing director Sidek Rosman started his business in 2003, but has been focusing on research and development since 15 years ago.

The company produces 15 types of spices and 34 types of other products such as lemon grass powder, ginger, curry, kaffir lime, cinnamon, hot chilli and others, supplying to major food industry players such as Nestle.

The company churns out up to 50 tonnes of spices a year in semi-raw form, chalking sales of around RM2 million a year, which are for local consumption as well as for the export market.

"We are in close contact with Malacca farmers involved in the various biotechnology programmes as well as the Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority.

"For future plans, the company which already has two plants in Sepang, plans to build a third one next year with an investment of up to RM10 million," said Sidek.

Twin Diamond Plantation owner Kwang Keh Chong Sr started growing all types of tomatoes in 1972 at a 2ha site in Cameron Highlands, Pahang. The business has ballooned to 20ha currently.

Kwang said the going was tough initially, as he had to borrow money from family and friends to start the business as banks were reluctant to provide financing.

But Kwang persevered, and the business thrived. From renting farms when he started, Kwang can now afford to buy them and build a processing facility.

"Business has been good, and we plan to develop an additional 15ha over the next three to five years, with an investment of up to RM6 million," he said.

Twin Diamond produces up to 10 tonnes of tomatoes daily (market price of RM1 per kg), of which 70 per cent is exported to Singapore while 30 per cent is for local consumption.

Kwang said to be successful, companies must watch their financials closely and not spend unnecessarily. Looking ahead, the company plans to incorporate more professional farming methods.

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