Govt grants lifeline to young agropreneurs

The Young Agropreneur Programme aims to encourage the involvement of youths in entrepreneurial activities in the agricultural sector’s value chain

By ALIA SITI KHADIJAH AZHAR

K RAMANA has never looked back since he gave up his high-paying job as a commercial airline pilot last year to pursue an agricultural venture.

Why should he have any regrets when he is now raking in a handsome seven-digit income from his animal feed production business.

Ramana, 30, is among the successful participants of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries’ (MAFI) Young Agropreneur Programme that was implemented in 2016 for youths aged between 18 and 40 under the 11th Malaysia Plan.

I know agriculture is not the choice of most youths, but this must change because agriculture has very good prospects, says Ramana

With the help of the ministry, which offered him machinery and guidance, Ramana — who is the founder and MD of Famox Plantation (M) Sdn Bhd based in Merbok, Kedah — ventured into maize cultivation after he was convinced of the agriculture sector’s lucrative returns.

“I know agriculture is not the choice of most youths, but this must change because agriculture has very good prospects,” he told Bernama when met during the ministry’s northern zone Young Agropreneur Exploration (JAM) programme that took place between March 13 and 15.

Ramana, who is from Bedong, Kedah, is also cultivating cassava — a starchy tuber — and rearing cattle on his 58ha maize plantation to optimise returns from his land throughout the year. The maize and cassava harvested from his plantation are used for the production of animal feed.

This young agropreneur’s commitment to making a success of his venture has earned him various awards, including the Young Agricultural Icon 2018/2019 (Plantation) award.

Change in Perception

According to MAFI deputy secretary-general (policy) Datuk Haslina Abdul Hamid, more than 5,000 young agropreneurs have received non-monetary grants under the Young Agropreneur Programme. The grants, some of which are worth up to RM20,000, are given in the form of machinery, seeds, animal breeds and advisory services, which have helped the participants develop their ventures and penetrate international markets and reap profits.

“Some of the young agropreneurs, who participated in our programme, are now earning much more than what they used to get before,” she said.

Haslina also noted that their success has helped change the general perception towards agriculture and youths are now viewing it as a viable sector.

The Young Agropreneur Programme is aimed at encouraging the involvement of youths in entrepreneurial activities in the agricultural sector’s value chain, such as plantations, livestock farming, fishery, agro-based industries, marketing, support services and agro-tourism.

On the JAM programme, Haslina said this is the second year of its implementation and it is aimed at monitoring the projects of its Young Agropreneur Programme’s participants and looking into their needs, in terms of advisory, technical and other services.

During the recent northern zone edition of JAM, the ministry’s focus was on nine participants in Penang, Kedah and Perlis.

“We encourage them to continue driving the industry,” she said, adding that the ministry is targeting 1,200 youths for its Young Agropreneur Programme this year.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the ministry has postponed its JAM programmes in other parts of the country.

Overcoming Challenges

In conjunction with the recent northern zone JAM programme, the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) conducted a two-day course for young agropreneurs who were taught the intricacies of running a business and how to meet the challenges that will come their way.

MADA GM Datuk Fouzi Ali said the involvement of more youths in agricultural, livestock farming and agro-based activities will help reduce the unemployment rate.

“We hope our future generation will be more knowledgeable and take more interest in this (agricultural) field because they will not only be able to generate an income for themselves, but also for the nation,” he added.

One of the course participants, Mohd Amir Farhan Mohd Zarif, 23, who recently embarked on a hybrid cattle rearing project, said he learned a lot from the course.

“I’m still new in this field, but I’m already planning to expand my cattle-rearing business,” said Mohd Amir Farhan, who now has a bull and three cows on his farm.

He said not many youths were aware of the grants offered by MAFI.

“As for me, it was only after I joined the agricultural sector that I found out the ministry, through its agencies, was ever ready to help (agro-based) entrepreneurs, particularly youths, and encourage them to be successful in their ventures,” he added.

Export Market

G Devandaran, 30, is another success story of the Young Agropreneur Programme. His food processing company Malayan Food Venture — based in Bagan Ajam, Butterworth — produces enzymatic dodol, a popular local delicacy to which an enzyme is added to increase its shelf life to up to a year.

His company generates sales to the tune of RM250,000 a month, thanks to the machinery and advisory services he received from the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) as it helped him boost productivity and penetrate the international market.

“I learned the technology for the enzymatic dodol-making process from Mardi and this enabled me to export my product to the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, China, Indonesia, and even Mexico and the US,” said Devandaran, whose company also produces 20 other food products such as jam and papadom.

Md Zuhaimi Samat, 37, who operates kelulut or stingless bee farms, also benefitted from the Young Agropreneur Programme. Starting with five colonies, he now has 150 colonies of kelulut of the itama, thoracica and terminata species.

His grant from the ministry came in the form of 15 colonies of stingless bees, machinery and a refrigerator which he received in 2016.

“The incentives from the government helped me produce higher quality kelulut honey,” said Md Zuhaimi, who now has three kelulut farms located in Kepala Batas and Guar Perahu in Penang and Kupang, Kedah. — Bernama