PETALING JAYA: Several hundreds of feet above sea level in Sabah and situated by the majestic Mount Kinabalu lies Kampung Kiau Nuluh, where most of the village folk once grew Arabica beans.
They found it difficult to sell the beans, however, and the villagers soon abandoned their farms in favour of pursuing other jobs in the local tourism business, such as being mountain guides.
One farmer persisted and kept tending to his coffee bean farm, and years later, his son Hanteh Ginsos saw great potential in the beans with the realisation that there was a market and demand for it.
In September 2019, he started an ecotourism business, taking tourists through the traditional coffee farming process where one could see and taste first-hand the farm-to-cup experience.
While his business mainly focused on the ecotourism aspect, all that ground to a halt when the government implemented the movement control order (MCO).
Not only was Hanteh’s business affected, the entire village found themselves out of a job as around 90% of them had been depending on the tourism sector as their source of income.
With leftover beans from tourist demonstrations and not much else to do, he decided to try selling the coffee beans.
Just a few weeks into it, Hanteh was introduced by his mentor to Yezza, an automated Whatsapp ordering tool which was later linked to EasyParcel, an online courier service provider.
His modus operandi sees him bringing the beans from the village to Kota Kinabalu where he is based and sorting out the orders he receives, either through his smartphone or laptop.
“For a whole week, I will take orders, and if I run out of stock, I just head back to my village to take more beans.”
The platform eased communications with customers by providing them with all the information they needed, while the integration with EasyParcel meant that he no longer needed to head to the post office to send off his products, as the courier service provider would come to him to pick it up.
“I just wanted to try and see how it went, but I didn’t expect people to really like it.
“In less than two months we managed to sell all the beans we had in stock. Even now, I still get enquiries from people, asking if there’s any stock left.”
With the help of the digital platform, Hanteh has managed to deliver the beans even to the peninsula, and as far as Penang.
And the demand doesn’t stop there. He said he has even received orders for his Mount Kinabalu Coffee from customers in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia.
He even plans to launch the brand’s own website in the future, to showcase the products to customers who can then purchase the coffee beans right away.
“We’ll have to skip (shipping overseas) for now. But in the future, I think this can definitely be done.”
Seeing for himself the potential these beans held, he started to promote the idea and encourage other families in his village to start farming these beans.
“In Malaysia, we still rely heavily on imported coffee for Arabica beans. It’s actually difficult to grow this type of coffee because it only grows at a certain elevation above sea level.
“But our village was the perfect environment. So I started to explore the market for this coffee,” he said.
Now, he has 15 other families growing the coffee beans, with the business’ production capacity potentially growing from one tonne of beans annually to 10 tonnes in three years.
And he hopes to encourage another 15 families to join in.
Hanteh says he also gets contacted by people living in other villages around Mount Kinabalu who are also interested in getting into the business, to whom he gladly shares how to get started.
While the villagers will have to wait two to three years before the trees start bearing the coffee fruit, he has also offered them a buy-back guarantee just in case they aren’t able to sell their beans.
“In a way, I feel that the MCO was a blessing because I learned about digital marketing, e-commerce, and I really utilised it. It really was one of the best things that happened to me during MCO.
“The ultimate goal was to help the villagers have a sustainable income in the long run. If I don’t do it, maybe one day someone else will, but since I can do it, why not?
“I don’t really consider it a success story, but I do think it’s the right thing to do for the people, the community,” he said.
Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) said various programmes under its recently launched #SayaDigital movement provides the means to people like Hanteh to make the digital leap and navigate the new normal successfully.
“Digitalisation cannot wait any longer,” said MDEC CEO Surina Shukri.
“Driving digital competencies ensures everyone can harness the range of opportunities that the digital economy presents in the fast-evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Shukri said MDEC’s various programmes such as PeDAS, eUsahawan, eRezeki, 100 Go Digital, Go-eCommerce, and eBerkat among others are designed to help cultivate digitalisation for Malaysian businesses.
The #SayaDigital movement, she said, would see MDEC engaging with various stakeholders from micro-entrepreneurs, small to medium-sized enterprises, gig workers, businesses and students to bring greater awareness of these programmes.
“The allocations from Prihatin and Penjana are the clearest signs that the government believes the digital economy is one of the main engines for Malaysia’s economic recovery, a vision that all of us at MDEC care passionately about.”