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My misadventure in planting Dendrobium for export

Koon Yew Yin 20 June 2021 (revised) 

Gardening is traditionally the women’s domain. Most men do not do gardening. For some strange reason, I always like to plant flowers especially orchids. Even as a poor government civil engineer with a monthly salary of Rm 760 in 1957, I would still buy orchids regularly. The photo below was taken when I bought these Dendrobiums orchids. 

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When I started working, a flowering plant cost between Rm30-50 depending on the quality of the flower. To promote the hobby there was/is an orchid society in every State which would organise a monthly competition to select the best plant for each category, such as Vanda, Cattleya, Cymbidium, Dendrobium etc. A champion plant could cost more than Rm 1,000. 

Propagation of orchids is similar to human propagation. Even if both parent plants were beautiful, the offspring may not be beautiful.  

What is tissue Culture?

Tissue culture (TC) is the cultivation of plant cells, tissues, or organs on specially formulated nutrient media. Under the right conditions, an entire plant can be regenerated from a single cell. Plant tissue culture is a technique that has been around for more than 40 years. Tissue culture is seen as an important technology for developing countries for the production of disease-free, high quality planting material and the rapid production of many uniform plants.

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At that time, many orchid growers also used tissue culture method to reproduce orchids. As a result, white Dendrobium flowers similar to the one as shown above could be reproduced cheaply.

In Bangkok, I could buy one white Dendrobium plant for Rm3.00. Each plant can produce 6 stalks of flowers per year and each plant will grow more young shoots which can be divided into 2 plants every 3 years. Based on these facts, growing white Dendrobium flowers for sale should be a profitable business. During that period, I used to go to Japan quite often because my construction company had a few joint ventures with Japanese construction companies. I notice the price of a stalk of Dendrobium, like the one above, was Rm 1.00. 

Based on the above facts, planting Dendrobium to produce stalks of flowers for export to Japan should be a very lucrative business. 

Dendrob Sdn Bhd 

I registered a company called Dendrob Sdn Bhd and immediately bought a piece of land beside a fresh water stream in Ampang, Perak. I constructed all the infrastructures and facilities to grow Dendrobium in a big way as a business. 

I employed Mr Ching Mok Choong as manager. He had the necessary experience in planting orchids and I gave him a free hand to grow white Dendrobium. Within a year, I could produce enough for export and I also identified a Japanese buyer for my cut flowers. 

Unfortunately, at that time there were very few planes flying to Japan and all the air cargo space were reserved for the computer chips. Computer chips   business was booming. As a result, I could not find cargo space to export my produce. 

At that time, my old business partner, Dato Yap Lim Sen and I founded IGB, IJM, Gamuda, Rubberex etc. He was a MAS director. Every time, I wanted air cargo space I would ring him up for help. I could not continue asking favour from my old friend.  

As you know, most Malaysians do not buy cut flowers regularly. Moreover, the whole of Malaysian market for cut flowers was too small for my production.

My expensive lesson

Before I start any new business, I must made sure I can produce, there is market for my product, I can produce cheaper than my competitors and no difficulties in logistics which is most crucial to the supply chain of any business.

Logistics involves the timely delivery of freight and goods from one place to another, as well as the unloading and unpacking of the cargo. Logistics workers may perform duties including inventory control, pricing and ticketing, and merchandise assembly. 

I hope readers will learn something from my misadventure

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