A 21-year-old kopitiam owner takes out his phone and starts to tap on the screen before continuing serving customers at his coffee shop, mostly coming for breakfast or getting their coffee fixed.
Don’t get him wrong as he was not checking on social media updates – instead he was monitoring his rock melon farm, located about 30 minutes’ drive away, via a farming technology application installed in his mobile phone.
Ling Jian Liang, who ventured into Japanese rock melon farming in December last year, was using fertigation system and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to monitor the field conditions.
“I installed two sets of IoT sensors to measure soil nutrients, moisture, fertiliser concentration, temperature as well as the Electrical Conductivity (EC) of the fertiliser solution,” he told New Sarawak Tribune.
“The data and a full interactive real-time control of the fertigation process is accessible via my smartphone, which helps us to keep tabs on changes in the farm condition, monitor farm parameters, precise usage of fertiliser and identify possible problems that may affect my crops – anywhere,” he explained.
The modern way of farming has allowed someone who has zero agriculture knowledge, like him, to manage the crops with less help, less time and a less labour-intensive workload.
He could continue to run his coffee shop business in Padawan every morning and visit the farm in Batu Kawah in the late afternoon, where he spent between two and three hours there – mostly to check the conditions of crops, cut and remove the side shoots and treat plants with diseases (if any).
How did it start?
Ling started cultivating rock melons in his (40ft x 60ft) greenhouse with his cousin Then Yi Yang, 26, on the advice of an officer from the Department of Agriculture.
“It actually started from a random conversation with a customer at my coffee shop, Johnson Chong, who is also in the Agriculture Department. He shared with me the knowledge of starting modern farming and even invited me to visit the Agriculture Research Centre in Semengoh,” he recalled.
“That’s how I got interested in modern farming. Chong gave me technical support along the way and taught me about cultivating rock melons from scratch, sharing his experience to overcome problems during the process,” he said.
One tonne yield from each harvest
Ling said they invested RM80,000 and spent about a month setting up the greenhouse on an empty land belonging to their grandfather. Currently, there are 650 rock melon plants in his farm, which could be harvested once every three months.
He said each cycle takes about 65 days from plant to harvest, and each plant bears only one fruit while each harvest produces about one tonne yield of rock melons.
“I sell them at RM20 per kg where the buyers are mostly my family, relatives and friends,” he said, adding that they continue to do their research and homework, including trying to cultivate other varieties of rock melon.
“We want to learn and identify which varieties (of Japanese rock melon) or if we need to make any improvements to produce sweeter, juicier and crunchier fruits. I believe there will be a potential and high demand for it,” he said.
The technical support and supervision from Chong and the Agriculture Department, he said, provided technology transfer from the professional to new growers like him and helped growers to succeed.
Ling said he has also applied for MyGap certification and funding from the department for the expansion of his farm.
Apart from that, the young farmer also seek professional advice on disease management from China and Taiwan growers, they have more experience than the local farmers.
“Currently, crop pest and disease outbreaks, and control of temperature inside the greenhouse due to the changes in Malaysia’s climate are among the main challenges… So, we continue to learn and also plan to further seek business collaboration with growers from China and Taiwan,” he said.
Ting plans to set up more greenhouses and increase his output so that he could supply and sell quality rock melons throughout Sarawak.
Apart from that, he also wished to introduce his farm as the training centre to encourage more young people to take up modern agriculture. He would like to contribute his abilities and knowledge to teach young people who are interested in modern farming.
“I hope my effort would make agriculture more popular among young Sarawakians, and boost the local economy and at the same time address the food shortage crisis and food security issues.
“Besides, I also hope that the local government would put more effort into the development of local agriculture for a better Sarawak.
Sarawak as a net food exporter by 2030
Sarawak aims to transform its agriculture into a technology-driven sector one helmed by youths and be a net exporter of food and food products by the year 2030.
Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg said the state government would work with Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) to improve agriculture and food production through research and technology.
He said this would contribute towards the state’s goal of becoming a net food exporter by 2030, besides attracting the younger generation to venture into farming.
“Our weakness in agriculture is in production, which is inefficient and doesn’t produce high quality food. Now is the time for us to use digital methods and technology,” he told reporters after launching Unimas’ convocation at its campus in Kota Samarahan on June 27.
In this respect, Abang Johari said he has requested Unimas to set up a lab in a rural area to train young farmers to use new agriculture methods, such as the Internet of Things (IOT).