A labour of love

In 2019, schoolmates Cheah and Lawrence traded their air-conditioned offices and cushy corporate jobs for fig cultivation under the fickle Malaysian weather.

The sweet taste of Malaysia produced fresh fig fruits took Cheah by surprise as it was vastly different from his previous encounter in the Middle East many years back, whereby the fresh fig fruits tasted bland. This led him wanting to start cultivating fresh figs in Malaysia, and together with Lawrence who was also passionate in agriculture, started Figara11.

Figara11 is a portmanteau – Fig and buah ara (a colloquial name for figs in Malaysia), meanwhile, the idea came about on the 11th.

Fig isn’t a popular crop in Malaysia so there wasn’t a fig cultivation model they could just quickly adopt and implement.

It took a bit of doing – among the most challenging aspect of the farm was to find the right plot of land. After an arduous 6-month search, they finally settled on an agriculture plot in Karak that has ample sunshine and water supply, both vital ingredients for fig trees to thrive.

Before they could start planting fig saplings, a lot of work needed to be done. The preparation work included clearing land, earth works, building support infrastructure and installing a rain-proof house for the trees.

Like most new ventures, nothing went quite according to plan. The farm preparation work was delayed by the 3-month movement control order (MCO) announced by the Malaysian government to curb the spread of Covid-19 in March 2020.

But there was a silver lining. It gave them more time to figure out a few infrastructure issues at hand. Once the MCO was lifted, work on the farm quickly picked up.

With guidance from a local fig sifu, the rain-proof house now shelters 1,000 fig saplings. Figara11 will be looking into other expansion plans in the future.

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Our fresh figs are cultivated with environmental sustainability in mind. To make sure our fig trees remain happy and productive, we use tailored dosage fertilisation that caters to the trees’ long- term needs.

We do not believe in overdosing the trees with pre-mixed fertilisers with unknown substances just to maximise production. This harmful technique will stress the trees, resulting in frequent replanting as trees become fruitless.

We also do not believe in using pesticides. We constantly check on the health of our soil as fig trees need a lot of micro and macro nutrients. Our fruits are safe to eat when immediately plucked from the trees.

Part of sustainable farming practice means managing water wisely. We use rain water harvesting to collect the water needed for watering. Rain water is also diverted into designated areas to reduce the risk of soil erosion.

We also have a timed irrigation system that releases a certain amount of water the trees need throughout the day. Trees are just like humans – they need water throughout the day. With this system, our trees grow better with optimal water absorption.

We have installed state-of-the-art imported film to ensure we have optimum sunlight throughout our rain-proof house. With optimal sunlight, the photosynthesis process of the trees will also be at an optimal level. This improves tree growth and enhances the flavour and sweetness of the fruits they produce.