When social distancing rules were tight and businesses were not doing well, events were one of the things people went without. Ben started an event planning business back in 2016, a passion he has always had since a very young age. However, this pandemic has forced him to put his business aside and focus on surviving this difficult time in any way possible; hence, he started Suria Agro Trading.
The thought process that led to chilli farming
A business for a product where there is a high demand but a low supply is the most ideal. Ben initially thought about the food industry as food delivery services have facilitated the sales of food product well. However, as many people started their own food business from home, the competition looks too tough to overcome. So he took a step back and looked at the supplier end of the food industry - the agriculture industry. Considering that the livestock business would cost a lot to get started with, Ben and his business partners decided to plant something instead.
After doing some surveys in the local wet markets, Ben found that there was a low supply of chilli and complaints about the quality of chillies. Ayam masak lemak cili api (translated as 'chicken cooked in fat with spicy chilli') is one of the famous dishes in Negeri Sembilan, so people are taking the quality of chillies seriously. Ben took on the challenge to cultivate one of the hottest and most difficult to cultivate cili padi in Malaysia - cili bara. Using the fertigation method where the chillies are planted in polybags, Ben began his chilli farming with 156 plants and took 5 months to master the requirements of growing this species of chilli. With 1,200 chilli plants at the moment, he sells 240 - 350kg of chillies a month to wholesale markets and individual buyers from Negeri Sembilan, Klang Valley, and Ipoh.
Each chilli is handpicked by Orang Asli workers
The harvesting of chillies is labour intensive due to the fact that the chillies are small in size and delicate. From 8am to 5pm, a person can handpick 6 - 7kg of chillies. Knowing that many Orang Asli have lost their livelihood during the pandemic, Ben hired 5 part-timers from the Orang Asli community to help out with the chilli harvesting. He is planning to expand his chilli farming business to 30,000 plants by partnering up with other entrepreneurs. Besides that, he has also expanded his business to vegetable supplying, fertigation equipment supplying, and also a fried chicken business. As the pandemic situation gets better, he plans on going back to his passion for event planning.
When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Nothing comes easy in life. My dad would always tell me this particular sentence, "you can be down in a race but never be OUT of the race. Failure is not the opposite of success but it's a part of success. Work hard and you'll definitely achieve your goals and dreams.
Ben Rayappan @ Papoo is one of the co-founders of Suria Agro Trading based in Seremban. He also runs Horsemen Projects, an event planning company (currently on hold due to the pandemic). You can get in touch with him through Facebook or Instagram.
This article is part of the 5 real stories of starting a business in the midst of the pandemic series written to tell the stories of entrepreneurs who have braved through these difficult times and successfully started a business. Check out other stories here: