Toiling under the shed in Jalan Jering, Kampung Endah, Banting, for up to thirteen hours a day, this is a far cry from the professional job that Erwan Bin Mohd. Sharif used to have as a civil engineer. No doubt, both types of jobs have their respective challenges but a mushroom farmer, admittedly, receives less respect from society.
Erwan, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia in Johor, decided to give up his engineering career some nine years ago and moved back to his village of Kampung Endah in Banting, Selangor.
Now 36 years old, he said of his decision: “As a Muslim, I felt that it is my responsibility, being the youngest male child, to take care of my parents. My dad was a farmer and my mom, a homemaker. They were healthy at the time but needed help with their smallholding of oil palm and tapioca. I had to draw a salary from my parents because I gave up my job and did not have a livelihood.
“I have to admit, I was quite restless after having enjoyed city life for a good number of years. One day, as I was watching the agriculture documentary, Agrotek, on television which showed the cultivation of oyster mushrooms, I was inspired to start my own project. It looked easy enough for me to handle, plus it didn’t require a lot of land. Besides, there were not many people in Banting who were into mushroom cultivation then,” he recalled.
With the blessings from his parents and a starting capital of RM12,000 from them, Erwan established Endah Maju Enterprise and began his first lesson in mushroom cultivation from the Department of Agriculture. “It was a short lesson and I had to learn everything else by trial and error after that,” he said. That was in 2007.
Helping Erwan at his business now is his wife, Darwisa Abdul Hapit. Originally from Semporna, Sabah, she had to quit her job as a factory operator in Shah Alam in 2015 when the business expanded.
Also seeing to the day-to-day work at the mushroom cultivation farm is Erwan’s older sister and a worker, who takes care of the 40,000 bags that have been filled with compost, prepared to cultivate mushrooms. These bags are neatly arranged on wooden racks.
Mushrooms have to be harvested twice a month. Due to the varying cycles of the bags placed at different sections under the shed, Erwan produces some twenty kilogrammes of oyster mushrooms daily, which are supplied to neighbourhood mini markets and the Banting wet market. The wholesale price is RM8 to RM11 per kilogramme, depending on supply and demand. From here, retailers mark up the price, but it would not be above RM14 per kilogramme.
Being a young entrepreneur, Erwan has learnt that business is a matter of solving problems. “There are many things to sort out first before the business generates an income. There’s the production, marketing and human relationship, among others. We also have to work hard. When these are all in line, then only do we start to turn a profit.”
Erwan also shared that he prays daily for conducive weather: “Our mushroom bags get damaged if the weather is too hot. When that happens, we try to intervene by watering the outside of the bags to cool them down. And then there are insects to deal with. We also make sure that the mushrooms do not grow too large to harvest.”
Even with non-stop back-breaking work, Erwan has no regrets leaving a professional career to establish his own mushroom business. “It is definitely a challenging field but when everything goes well, I am really happy. That’s when my wife and I could take our 3-year-old daughter to town with a free heart,” Erwan enthused.
There is a huge demand for oyster mushrooms in the local market. The fact that large companies such as Vita Agrotech Sdn. Bhd. and Damansara Mushroom Industry supply more than two tonnes of mushrooms per day for the Klang Valley has shown Erwan that he is on the right path. He said, “There will always be an opportunity for a small business like mine to grow. A few of my friends produce as much as 100 to 150 kilogrammes of oyster mushrooms a day. I am confident that I, too, can achieve that level one day.”
Erwan’s dad passed away in 2012 at the age of 62. He would definitely be proud to see how Erwan’s oyster mushroom business has flourished over the years.
Note: An edited version of this article [Business flourishes for former engineer] was published on 8th October, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.