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Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Penang uses 5G agritech to locate and harvest fresh durian for homestay guests or to be packaged and sold.

Published 2021-07-07 11:25:23
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Despite being born to a durian farmer in 1961, Chang Teik Seng—popularly known as Durian Seng—never got to taste durians until his father passed away.

Durian Seng’s son, Chang Zhi Vooi told Vulcan Post, “My grandpa was very strict towards his kids, not letting them eat a single durian as he needed to sell all the durians for money.”

These durians came from their farm called Bao Sheng Durian Farm (宝盛园), which translates to “an abundance of treasure”. It’s said that the durians served at this farm have a certain uniqueness to them. When consumed within 30 minutes of dropping from the tree, they emit a “numbing” taste, which Zhi Vooi describes as a sizzling and gassy feeling on the tongue.

The main challenge, however, was catching the durians within this short window of time, so the family did so with the help of 5G, but more on that later.

Hitting the ground

Farming processes have changed drastically since the farm’s inception in 1959. When it was started 62 years ago in Penang, its main objective was to breed and sell different varieties of durians. Back then, production and yield were key, so chemical fertilisers and pesticides were used.

After being passed down to Durian Seng in the 1990s, chemical products were replaced altogether in favour of organic farming methods. He also found that older trees tend to give off more complex, deeper flavours that weren’t just the one dimensional sweet or bitter ones that younger counterparts had.

A cosy villa for a durian feast / Image Credit: Bao Sheng Durian Farm

With that, Durian Seng realised that tasting durians was an experience to be enjoyed rather than just another product to be pushed out for money. Thus, Bao Sheng Durian Farm’s objective was moved from wholesaling to sharing the taste of durians to lovers of the fruit. 

Come 2007, a villa was built on the 6.7-acre land as a staycation spot so visitors could taste the durians fresh, along with their “numbing” sensation emitted within that 30 minute window.

Old farm with new tricks

This numbing was discovered when Durian Seng and his wife stumbled upon a fully-ripened durian that had dropped and hit on rock from an old tree. 

“We then realised that hitting a very fresh durian can make it taste numb. Slowly then we also found out that older, healthier trees with better soil and environment make for a higher percentage of getting this numbing flavour,” Zhi Vooi recounted.

Plump durians from the farm / Image Credit: Bao Sheng Durian Farm

Learning the ropes of durian farming in his teens, Zhi Vooi shifted Bao Sheng’s organic farming methods into biodynamic farming in 2017. Biodynamic farming is an advanced organic farming method in which no artificial fertiliser or chemical sprays are used. 

The plant is seen in its overall context. The soil, the water in the soil and atmosphere, its surrounding light and temperature, and the cosmos (sun, moon, planets, and stars) are all considered. These factors are consciously balanced, allowing the plant to grow to its full potential in health and vitality, resulting in the most beautiful, tasty, healthy food.

Chang Zhi Vooi, 3rd generation owner of Bao Sheng Durian Farm.

However, if a durian wasn’t found within 30 minutes of falling, all this effort may simply go to waste. In 2020, fishnets were set up to catch the fallen durians and enabled with 5G so the Chang family could be notified on where that durian was located on the farm.

Zhi Vooi clarified that this tech primarily helps them save time, as they’d previously go looking for a fallen durian from every possible tree.

The weight detected on the fishnets will trigger a notification for the farmers / Image Credit: Maxis

“Sensors are placed along each durian net, enabling them to detect changes in net tension and weight when a fruit drops. An alert is then immediately sent to Mr. Chang’s phone, detailing the fruit’s location,” explained Claire Featherstone, a member of the team from Maxis which helped install the tech now called Durian Sense.

The tech utilises massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) components of 5G to help provide real-time insights on harvesting needs. Its sensors have the ability to monitor durian harvests based on their time and location.

When the durians are retrieved from the net, they are hit to mimic the impact of falling which activates a chemical reaction in its flesh that contributes to the numbing sensation. Only then are the fruits cut open for guests to enjoy.

An abundance of durians

As Bao Sheng Durian Farm is also a tourist attraction, its team had to pivot to sell durians straight to customers and middlemen while their villas were closed during the lockdowns. Customers could order directly from the Penang farm or purchase the durians in vacuumed-sealed packages from organic shop partners.

When MCO stopped the farm’s visits, they sold durians in pre-packed portions / Image Credit: Bao Sheng Durian Farm

Because the numbing durians can’t survive the journey, Zhi Vooi chimed that the Chang family have been enjoying those all to themselves with no guests around. 

“Also, we can be more focused on farming and now have the time to observe our farm’s health during the durian season. Before the MCO we would be quite busy serving guests with no time to sit under the trees to ponder, wander around, and do farm work,” he elaborated.

This freed-up time helps the family focus on growing the business while improving their farming practices. They also plan to expand their farmland to share the current generation’s knowledge in durian farming and to accommodate more guests to experience the durians’ flavours.

  • You can find out more about the Bao Sheng Durian Farm here.
  • You can read about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Chang Teik Seng, owner of Bao Sheng Durian Farm

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