Growing vanilla in Malaysia

One of the latest trends in agriculture may be vanilla cultivation, where high-value vanilla crops sales have gone up to RM6 billion in 2018 globally. In fact, SEA alone has transacted more than RM600 million in vanilla. That’s according to Kairos Agriculture, a vanilla farm in Penang. Though, they’re faced with a tiny issue: Malaysia’s climate isn’t a suitable environment to grow vanilla plants. 

“One of the biggest challenges that we face to grow vanilla here in Penang is the plants themselves need a cooling period,” explained Ezra, the farm’s Managing Director to Vulcan Post. “They need to adapt to the environment as they are quite sensitive compared to the other plants and take time to stabilise themselves in order to grow healthily.”

Hence, the Penang based farm is employing agritech solutions to represent Malaysia in entering the vanilla cultivation market. Kairos started their farming journey in Sarawak planting mushrooms and bananas, which played a part in how they got into vanilla farming. Noticing the organic waste from the farm’s expired mushroom logs that were left aside, the team tried to convert it into vermicompost. Vermicompost is where worms can use green waste to create water-soluble nutrients that can be repurposed as organic fertiliser and soil conditioner. 

The Kairos team eventually used it to plant vanilla, which to their surprise, worked. Upon testing their vanilla pods at a Japanese flavouring company, the product was praised for its world trade quality; the land of the rising sun wanted more of it. “Unfortunately our produce in East Malaysia is not able to meet the demand requested from Japan. That was why we started the vanilla cultivation on a larger scale with land granted from the Penang government,” said Ezra.

With an aim to make Penang known as Malaysia’s vanilla plantation hub, Kairos needed a farm with AI to control the vanilla’s production. But being one of the pioneers in this method of mass growing the edible flower, they lacked the knowledge in how to build the relevant technologies.

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