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Ben Rayappan : Feeding the craving for quality chillies in Malaysia

A good business opportunity exists when supply is limited and demand is high. Ben Rayappan, an event planner, conducted market research before deciding to start a plantation of cili bara, one of Malaysia’s hottest and most difficult chilli species to cultivate.

When social distancing rules were strict and businesses were struggling, one of the things people went without was events. Ben started an event planning business in 2016, a passion he has had since he was a child. However, the pandemic has forced him to abandon his business in order to focus on surviving this difficult time in any way possible; thus, he founded Suria Agro Trading.

Ben began his chilli farming with 156 plants, knowing how Malaysians crave hot and spicy dishes, and has since expanded his farm to 1,200 chilli plants. He can sell 240 – 350kg of chillies per month to wholesale markets and individual buyers in Negeri Sembilan, Klang Valley, and Ipoh thanks to his farm.

The most ideal business is one for a product with high demand but low supply. Ben initially considered the food industry because food delivery services have greatly facilitated the sale of food products. However, because so many people started their own food businesses from home, the competition appears to be too difficult to overcome. So he took a step back and looked at the food industry’s supplier end – the agriculture industry. Ben and his business partners decided to plant something instead of starting a livestock business because it would be too expensive to get started.

Ben discovered a lack of chilli supply and complaints about the quality of chillies after conducting surveys in local wet markets. Ayam masak lemak cili api is a popular dish in Negeri Sembilan, so the quality of chillies is important. Ben took on the challenge of cultivating cili bara, one of Malaysia’s hottest and most difficult cili padi to grow. Ben began his chilli farming with 156 plants and took 5 months to master the requirements of growing this species of chilli using the fertigation method in which the chillies are planted in polybags. He currently sells 240 – 350kg of chillies per month to wholesale markets and individual buyers from Negeri Sembilan, Klang Valley, and Ipoh from his 1,200 chilli plants.

Chilli harvesting is labour intensive due to the small size and sensitive nature of the chiles. A person can handpick 6–7kg of chiles from 8am to 5pm. Ben engaged five part-timers from the Orang Asli community to assist with the chilli picking, knowing that many Orang Asli had lost their livelihood due to the pandemic. By cooperating with other businesses, he hopes to grow his chilli farming business to 30,000 plants. He has also expanded his business to include vegetable supply, fertigation equipment supply, and a fried chicken restaurant. He intends to return to his passion for event planning once the pandemic scenario improves.

Ending the interview, Ben gave a word of advice, “ 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.”

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