Entrepreneur

No One Is Buying Harvests From Rural East M'sian Farmers. This Team's Solution: Marketing.

  • Langit is a social enterprise founded in December 2015 that targets rural farmers in Sabah and Sarawak with the aim of helping them sell their produce to a larger audience in Malaysia.
  • The products sold under the Langit label include different types of grains, and spices such as ginger and pepper.
  • Langit also organises training programmes and events to help them improve their agricultural technique and teach them about sustainable entrepreneurship.

For all the talk of socioeconomic progress, it’s clear that much of Malaysia’s rural community still suffers from a lack of many things, among them being a source of reliable income. In Sabah and Sarawak, this especially holds true for families that rely on agriculture and farming activity to sustain their livelihoods.

Faced with oversupply, poor market access, and unfair pricing, these farmers are often left stranded in their search for a stable means to earn a living and are often faced with the prospect of having to live day-to-day without knowing what comes next.

In an effort to help this group overcome this pain point, four Malaysian friends joined up to create Langit, a social enterprise with a mission to help Sabahan and Sarawakian farmers develop a sustainable economic ecosystem while helping them sell their produce to a larger market around Malaysia.

“Rice Is All We Have”

Langit was officially founded in December 2015 by Lilian Chen, Melisa Lim, Chan Zi Xiang, and Chia Yong Ling after the four met while working together on NGO work.

“Our journey started with rice,” said Lilian. “We were part of an NGO that focused on building basic infrastructures for rural communities.”

Recounting her early experience, Lilian mentioned the one specific project that inspired their initiative—the building of gravity-fed-water systems for the Lun Bawang community in the highlands of Lawas, Sarawak.

“We got really close to our host family as the project progressed. They even gave us Lun Bawang names,” Lilian continued. “They fed us extremely well and we always had leftover rice.”

“The rice tasted amazing, but we could never finish it, so we asked them not to cook so much. But they solemnly said, ‘we have nothing to offer, rice is all we have.’”

It was then that the friends noticed a problem—rice was going to waste, and these farmers hadn’t the opportunity to sell them on a regular basis. So in the Christmas of 2015, the friends attempted to test the demand for the rice by packaging them as gift bundles to sell.

“We sold out a small amount of rice pouches in two days,” Lilian said.

“This was our first motivation to pursue the idea further—to act as the bridge for rural farmers to market their produce to a larger audience.”

Image Credit: Langit Collective

Today, Langit actively engage 30 different farmers across three farming communities by helping them sell their produce, with the products sold under their label including three different types of rice (white, red, and black rice), Job’s tears, black pepper, and ginger.

Three different types of rice are harvested by East Malaysian farmers and sold under Langit / Image Credit: Langit

And aside from helping them market their produce to a larger Malaysian audience, Langit also provides these farmers with training programmes and equips them with basic tools and invaluable farming know-how to help them better grow their crops and teach home a bit about entrepreneurship.

During one of the workshops organised by Langit / Image Credit: Langit

From the income, about 35–40% of all revenues then go towards fairly paying farmers for their produce.

“We make sure that they are paid the biggest proportion out of our sale price,” Lilian said. “The payment is their net income as they no longer need to spend on transporting their produce to sell, as we purchase directly at their doorstep.”

“Our business model revolves around fair pricing mechanisms, connecting products to mature urban markets,” she explained further.

“We are also at a stage where we are experimenting on more effective planting, harvesting, and processing methods, so we also invest some of our revenues into organising workshops and buying machinery.”

When The Sowing Gets Tough

When asked about some of the tougher aspects of this initiative, Lilian talked about the problem of licensing and legislation.

“The current legislation on commodities like rice has been our biggest challenge—the entire supply chain from farmer to end consumer requires a business to have multiple licenses at different stages, and these come with large capital and premises requirements,” she said. “It doesn’t favour small businesses, let alone social enterprises like ours.”

She also then mentioned the steep learning curve associated with supply chain management.

“Most of the places we currently work in do not have complementary services such as storage, logistics, or packaging facilities like in urban settings,” she explained. “Hence, we had to fill all these gaps and basically build the entire supply chain on our own.”

“To counter all of these challenges, we’re constantly improving the way we work, seeking our creative solutions while looking out for collaborative opportunities.”

These obstacles however, have also helped the Langit team pick up some invaluable lessons in running an enterprise, chief among them being the importance of timing.

“With our farmers in agriculture, timing is pretty much fixed—be it planting, harvesting, or their festive seasons,” Lilian said. “However, we have to constantly balance demands that do not adhere to these timings.”

“It’s about forecasting and balancing expectations in order to move the business forward.”

Lilian also went on to talk about the importance of collaboration, saying that it was “the way forward.”

“As a small social enterprise, there’s only so much we can achieve as a single organisation,” she said. “Hence, collaborating with strategic partners helps to create the impact we envision at a faster and more creative rate.”

To that end, Langit have already began a number of collaborative projects to use and sell their products with F&B outlets and retailers such as Bobo KL, a restaurant in Bangsar, as well specialty shops such as Snackfood, MARDI Artisan Grocer, and Mano Plus in Penang all among their partners.

Image Credit: Langit

Seeds For The Future

Langit will continue to increase these partnerships, and hopefully use them to help diversify their sources of revenue.

“While we pan out the paperwork for legislative purposes—which will then allow us to scale, we are also trying to diversify our revenue streams by organising experiential trips,” she explained. “This July, we are collaborating with the community in Long Semado to host the annual Irau Bua Kaber (Pineapple Festival).

“This is to further promote the event to visitors who are interested in learning about the culture and way of life of the Lun Bawang community.”

Farmers in Kampung Long Semadoh performing a gotong-royong activity to help plant Beras Adan (white rice) / Image Credit: Langit

All these will ultimately go towards Langit’s plan to gradually expand their reach and hit other markets within the local region.

“It takes a lot of discipline to stay true to our values in business,” said Lilian as she talked about growth. “As we work to be sustainable, it’s easy to be swayed from our original intention, which is to create impact for our farmers.”

“It’s good to have a strong vision that we can fall back on in times of conflict.”

Feature Image Credit: Langit

 

Subscribe to Vulcan Post Newsletter

Stay updated with our weekly curated news and updates.