Thorny but sweet business

RAUB: She is indeed a rose among the thorns in the male-dominated business of trading and reselling durians.

And despite her youth and demure looks, Tang Ai Chee, 26, has become an expert on durians from when she first dipped her toes into the business four years ago.

Tang, who is from Kampung Sungai Klau here, is one of the many young people who decided to return to their hometown and start a career in agriculture. Her choice was durian farming and supply.

“I worked in Australia for two years after completing my secondary schooling. Later, I set up a cafe business in Kuantan.

“But my business was not really good, so my parents encouraged me to come home to try my luck.

“They said Raub’s agriculture activities were growing, bringing more economic development and opportunities – I took their advice and came home,” she said when met at a durian collection place at Kampung Sungai Klau here recently.

A bubbly Tang said she was out on a steep learning curve that started with her working as an admin clerk for a durian farmer and wholesaler.

Other than the usual accounting and paperwork, she also learned how to grade each durian by its appearance and also determine how many locules each fruit has – which are important to determine the quality and price.

Spurred by the encouragement of her boss and friends, Tang said she began to trade durians a year ago by accepting truckloads of Musang King from farmers before reselling them to stall owners or hawkers.

“I partnered with a friend and started our venture. It is thrilling and challenging because there is so much to learn.

“But at the same time, it’s so much fun. Most importantly, the time is much more flexible and the rewards are good,” she added.

When the trading business slows down towards midday, Tang said she will usually head to her shop in the afternoon and help with freeze-packing durian pulp to be sold in the Klang Valley, Johor and Perak.

After purchasing a 4ha durian orchard about two years ago, Tang set her sights on growing her durian farm and related business.

For now, she is waiting for her Musang King and Black Thorn trees to bear fruit in about three to four years.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said, adding that many people assumed her parents were durian farmers.

“They think that I must have help or have parents who are durian farmers, but that’s not the case,” said Tang, whose father is a lorry driver.

While durian farming may not be every girl’s dream job, she said young people must know what they wanted to achieve in life.

“I see that more young people are returning to their hometown in Raub to work in durian farms in recent years. It is indeed doable and rewarding as long as one puts in the work.

“I’m glad that I made that choice to come home.”

Tang also called on young and budding agropreneurs to do what they like and not doubt their own abilities.

Durian reseller Chia Chee Boon, 35, who returned in 2018 from Singapore where he worked as an electrician, said coming home was the right thing to do.

“The pasture is not always greener on the other side.

“At least I’m now closer to my parents, my wife and children – and working for myself instead of others,” he said.

Chia said working in the durian farm could be tiring, but likened the fruit of his labour to “gold that grows on trees”.

“It’s a blessing that we can grow such tasty durians. It should be protected and made sustainable,” he added.