Luuk Runia is the only European citizen doing business in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia:

Southeast Asia to become key location for horticultural development

In regards to horticulture, Southeast Asia is known as one of the most upcoming markets with many opportunities. Since it is not that easy to break into new markets due to cultural differences and the size of the area, not every company has got the best experiences with projects in the most thriving economy of Asia's subregion. However, horticultural entrepreneur Luuk Runia of Greenhouse Solutions Asia [the only European citizen doing business in Cameron Highlands Malaysia] says he is not planning to leave the region anytime soon.

Luuk Runia

Luuk Runia first set foot into the Asian market more than 17 years ago at the age of 23. The Dutchman already had a background in horticulture as his parents had a tomato farm. In 1996 he set up a sales office in Perlite substrate for Pull BV Rhenen., in 2001 he acquired this asset of the business. Operating from Malaysia, he expanded this business in to an all round supplying and service company in horticulture.

Perlite substrate was one of the first introductions of hydroponics in Asia by that time. "We started by supplying both knowledge and materials", said Runia. "In Asia, you can't simply sell your products and disappear: It takes a lot of pre and after sales. That's why we focused on consulting in the first place to make the growers more familiar with new substrates, fertilizers and other materials."

Greenhouses in Malaysia
Runia's customers were mainly Malaysian growers that were using high tunnels and rain shelters. "Within a few years we made many growers familiar with simple innovations from the Netherlands, like trellising systems, irrigation drippers, starting materials and simple tunnel greenhouses."

By that time horticulture in Malaysia saw an increase in popularity. Many growers were located in concentrated areas in the Cameron Highlands, but placeS to expand was becoming rare. That's why in 2008 Luuk Runia together with Anne Eilings and Jouke Kampen of Wageningen UR and the Malaysian Dep. of Agriculture developed a greenhouse structure suitable for the high temperatures, radiation and humidity in the tropic lowlands of Malaysia.

Constructing new greenhouses

Nowadays Runia is still very successful with this greenhouse design. "We produce the structures in Malaysia and we still sell and install many ALMA (lowland tropical) greenhouses in the lowlands. There are already 70 of these greenhouse installed, and hopefully we will have a chance to build even more of these units in Sabah," he said.

Besides the structures and complete greenhouse supplies, Runia and his team also share knowledge on cultivation strategies.

Next to this the rising costs of labour in Southeast Asia brought Runia another thriving business; automation. Especially in the last two years, Runia noted an increasing demand for automation. Nowadays Greenhouse Solutions Asia is involved in many projects together with Greefa for vegetable and fruit sorters, BTM Glasshouse Logistics for flower sorting, Priva irrigation units, NPI watertanks, Legro cocopeat and packaging lines. As Malaysia has become the largest exporter of cut chrysanthemums to Japan [300 million stems a year] , Runia expects that automation will become a bigger trend in the coming years. "Cost of labour has gone up, as well as the production cost, so automation will become very important," he said.

The team of Greenhouse Solutions Asia: Frank Hermans (Service Manager Greefa/BTM/Priva), Muru (Greenhouse/Watertank Coordinator), Mae See (Office Manager) and Luuk Runia (Director).

Another notable opportunity seen by Runia is the increasing demand for sustainable crop protection solutions. "Asian retailers and the local governments are more and more demanding the same production standards as in Western Europe and North America. The use of pesticides is being reduced and biological crop protection is on the rise," said Runia.

There are about 8,000 hectares with protected crops in Malaysia. Since a few years ago, the greenhouse growers have fewer products available to protect their crops from pests and diseases. This results in an increasing demand for alternatives, and as a result of this, Runia recently toured several greenhouses together with Yassin Lahiani, export manager for the MENA and Pacific region at Koppert Biological Systems. "We scouted crops and trained growers about the use of biological systems. It's still feels a bit like pioneering, but in the next few years growers in South East Asia will take huge steps. As their customers [big European retailers who gain foothold in Asia] demand more responsibly grown fresh produce and flowers, they can't avoid it anymore."

Runia is confident that Southeast Asia will become a big, thriving and important place for horticulture development in the coming years. "Trade shows like the Horti Asia in Bangkok are contributing to development in this region," he said. "However, companies must adapt to the Asian spirit. In the coming years it will still be all about consulting and education if you want to do business here." Rinia said sales are only 30 percent of the game.

"Being around now for so many years has created a trust with the costumers and within the region. Projects recently in Australia, Thailand, India and Indonesia also show the region is growing for us. After-sales and service is where the future lies in Asia if you want to succeed. Greenhouse Solutions Asia is looking forward to the next coming years and hopes to see the company growth growing steady like in the last few years," Runia concluded.

Asian Perlite Industries will be exhibiting at the Horti Asia 2014 in Bangkok from 8-10 May in the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre. For more information, please visit

For more information:
Asian Perlite Industries Sdn. Bhd. (Greenhouse Solutions Asia)
Luuk Runia, Director
72B Persiaran Camellia 4,
39000 Tanah Rata,
Cameron Highlands,
Pahang, Malaysia

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