Haji Ayub examining the chilli peppers at one of the farms. (Abdul Hakiim Yakof/Borneo Bulletin/ANN)
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN -Bruneians should not look down on agriculture as an undesirable business to engage in, as a decent living can be earned from properly managed farms.
This was said by Haji Ayub bin Haji Suhaili, one of the founders of Eco Nadi Agrobiz, an agriculture company from Tutong, in an interview with the Bulletin at the company’s project site in the Sinaut Agriculture Development Area (KKP Sinaut).
Haji Ayub told how he and his business partner Khairuddin bin Haji Mohammad started off by just cultivating chillies at the farm in Kampong Bukit Udal and Kampong Bangungos, Tanjong Maya, Tutong.
He also shared that in the beginning there were many challenges in setting up the business and factors to ponder on such as diseases, weather and water quality.
Other difficulties encountered were the duo’s day job obligations; they could only visit the fields on Saturdays and Sundays.
“In the beginning I acquired knowledge on growing plants through Internet research and by contacting experienced local farmers. In 2014, my partner and I travelled to Malaysia to gain more knowledge from the farmers there,” Haji Ayub said. “Initially, I found it challenging to work in the hot weather, and I can say that it takes a lot of getting used to, but at the end of the day, you learn to appreciate the rewarding feeling of farming.”
He added that it is easier nowadays after employing foreign workers to do the farming work, leaving him and his partner to handle tasks such as marketing their harvests and purchasing fertiliser.
The company uses fertigation - the practice of injecting fertiliser and water into the irrigation system - in the cultivation of crops such as chilli peppers, ginger, beans and red and green spinach.
“During my childhood, my siblings and I would spend our time in paddy fields with our parents, so this farming passion came naturally.
“The decision to venture into agriculture came about after working in the government and private sector, and I reached a point where I felt that I needed to contribute back to the country in terms of food security, as I think food security is one of the keys for the country to achieve sustainable development,” Haji Ayub said.
Some of the produce at Haji Ayub's farm. (Abdul Hakiim Yakof/Borneo Bulletin/ANN)
After acquiring valuable experience and knowledge in farm management from running their two farms in Kampong Bukit Udal and Kampong Bangungos, the company was awarded with the Brunei Good Agricultural Practice (Brunei GAP) certifi-cation by the Agriculture and Agrifood Department under the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) last year. They were also granted 10 acres of land in KKP Sinaut by the MPRT where they planted more than 7,000 polybags of chilli peppers on a five-acre area. Plans are currently on to use the remaining five acres for cultivation.
Haji Ayub explained further, “At the moment, due to financial constraints, my partner and I have been investing our own money - rollover funds from our previous fields in Bukit Udal and Bangungos – in our field in Sinaut. So I’m waiting for our next harvest, and (after that) we can plant another 2,000 polybags of chilli peppers.”
Commenting on the state of development of agriculture in the country, Haji Ayub said there needs to be a facility for farmers to acquire capital with low interest rates, as setting up a farm requires a lot of money.
Eco Nadi Agrobiz’s vision is to expand the practice of agriculture and corporate social responsibility, and so far, they have conducted 14 classes (the classes accommodate 10 people and are carried out once a month) on agricultural practices since the end of 2014. It is the owners’ hope the people who attend the classes will gain the ability and knowledge to start farming.
“Currently we have four attachment students from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) who are here for six months until August 2017 as part of their degree in Agriculture Science,” Haji Ayub said. “We have also taught agri-culture methods to students of the Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Secondary School and Pusat Bahagia Tutong. These are small efforts, but we’ll continue trying our best to further stir an interest in agriculture.”