Homestay using agritech to harvest fresh durian

Although he was born into a durian farmer in 1961, Chang Teik Seng, known as Durian Seng, never tasted durians until his father passed away.

Durian Seng’s son Chang Zhi Vooi told Vulcan Post, “My grandfather was very strict with his children, not letting them eat a single durian because he had to sell all the durians for money.

These durians came from their farm called Bao Sheng Durian Farm (), which translates to “an abundance of treasures”. It is said that the durians served at this farm have a certain uniqueness. When consumed within 30 minutes of falling from the tree, they emit a “numbing” taste, which Zhi Vooi describes as a sizzling, gasping sensation on the tongue.

The main challenge, however, was to catch the durians in that short amount of time, so the family did it with the help of 5G, but more on that later.

Hit the ground

Agricultural processes have changed dramatically since the farm was established in 1959. When it was established 62 years ago in Penang, its main focus was to breed and sell different varieties of durians. At the time, production and yield were essential, which is why chemical fertilizers and pesticides were used.

After being passed on to Durian Seng in the 1990s, the chemicals have been completely replaced by organic farming methods. He also found that older trees tend to give off more complex and deeper flavors that weren’t just the one-dimensional sweet or bitter flavors of the younger ones.

A cozy villa for a durian feast / Image credit: Bao Sheng Durian Farm

With this, Durian Seng realized that tasting durians was an experience to be enjoyed rather than just a product to sell for money. Thus, the focus of Bao Sheng Durian Farm has shifted from wholesale to sharing the taste of durians with fruit lovers.

In 2007, a villa was built on 6.7 acres of land as a place to stay so visitors could taste the fresh durians, as well as their ‘numb’ feeling emitted in that 30 minute window.

Old farm with new tips

This numbness was discovered when Durian Seng and his wife came across a fully ripe durian that had fallen and hit the rock of an old tree.

“Then we realized that hitting a very fresh durian can make it taste numb. Slowly, we also discovered that older, healthier trees with better soil and a better environment lead to a higher percentage of getting that numbing flavor, ”Zhi Vooi recounted.

Farm Plump Durians / Image Credit: Bao Sheng Durian Farm

Learning the ropes of durian farming as a teenager, Zhi Vooi transformed Bao Sheng’s organic farming methods into biodynamic farming in 2017. Biodynamic farming is an advanced organic farming method in which no artificial fertilizers or chemical spray is not used.

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

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

However, if a durian has not been found within 30 minutes of falling, all of those efforts may simply be in vain. In 2020, fishing nets were set up to catch the fallen durians and activated with 5G so that the Chang family could be made aware of the location of this durian on the farm.

Zhi Vooi clarified that this technology mainly helps them save time, as they would previously go looking for a fallen durian in every possible tree.

Weight detected on fishing nets will trigger notification for farmers / Image credit: Maxis

“Sensors are placed along each durian fillet, allowing them to detect changes in the tension and weight of the fillet when a fruit falls. An alert is then immediately sent to Mr. Chang’s phone, detailing the location of the fruit, ”said Claire Featherstone, a member of the Maxis team that helped install the technology now called Durian Sense.

The technology uses massive machine-type communications (mMTC) components of 5G to help provide real-time information on harvesting needs. Its sensors have the ability to monitor durian crops based on their time and location.

When durians are retrieved from the net, they are struck to mimic the impact of the fall which activates a chemical reaction in its flesh that contributes to the feeling of numbness. Only then are the fruits cut for the guests to enjoy.

An abundance of durians

As Bao Sheng Durian Farm is also a tourist attraction, his team had to pivot to sell durians directly to clients and middlemen while their villas were closed during closings. Customers could order directly from the Penang farm or purchase the durians in vacuum-sealed packages from organic store partners.

When MCO stopped the farm tours, they sold durians in prepackaged portions / Image credit: Bao Sheng Durian Farm

Because numb durians cannot survive the trip, Zhi Vooi rang the Chang family enjoying them for themselves without any guests.

“In addition, we can focus more on agriculture and now have the time to observe the health of our farm during durian season. Before MCO, we would be very busy serving guests without having time to sit under the trees to think, walk around and do farm work, ”he explained.

This freed up time helps the family focus on growing the business while improving their farming practices. They are also planning to expand their farmland to share the current generation’s knowledge of durian cultivation and to welcome more guests to experience the flavors of durians.

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

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

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