Issue that’s hotter than chillies

THE airstrip in Sungai Batu Pahat in Kangar at one time made visitors drool because it was located close to the sweet harumanis mango orchards.

But now, that is no longer the case. Things have become really ‘hot’ after more than 70,000 chilli plants in polybags were placed on the airstrip since the end of last year.

The chilli cultivation project, the brainchild of former Perlis Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, changed the view of the airfield for good.

The airstrip is no longer visible and the green chilli plants make the airfield look like a verdant plain.

Things even got hotter when news reached the ears of the Perlis agricultural committee chairman Sabry Ahmad that the “One Million Red Chili Polybag Project” is a flop.

The detractors claim the pioneer project to create 300 red chilli entrepreneurs is a failure, looking at the withered plants and the padi seedlings creeping from the polybag.

While the detractors might not be aware of the real situation, the state government was going all out to prove them wrong, said Sabry when met at the airfield that once hosted air shows and now serves as a temporary germinating ground for chillies in polybag.

Beginning April 15, a total of 23 chilli entrepreneurs will each be allocated 3,000 polybags in stages.

Sabry said that each chilli plant in the polybag could produce up to 5kg of chillies in eight months.

With current market prices fetching up to RM5 per kg, he is confident that it will help boost the income of those participating in the project.

All entrepreneurs must have at least 0.5ha of land to place 3,000 polybags and they must provide the best care if they are to realise lucrative returns.

Sabry said the entrepreneurs in Perlis were capable of producing up to two tonnes of red chillies daily and when Perlis achieved the one million polybag target, the state would be producing up to 10 tonnes daily.

“We can cut down the import bill by producing chillies here but we also have to ensure these chillies reach all corners of the nation,” said Sabry who is also Santan state assemblyman.

He is confident that the project will serve as a catalyst in expanding the number of chilli entrepreneurs and at the same time, increasing the commodity output in Perlis.

Meanwhile, Perlis Agriculture Department director Abdul Razak Shafiai refuted claims that the big scale project had failed.

He said such perception probably arose because of the current state of the plants.

The chili plants are sensitive to heat and this makes them wither. The padi seedlings grow in the polybags due to the presence of rice husks that are mixed with the soil and fertilizer.

It is undeniable that the hot weather and unpredictable rain pose a serious challenge in implementing the project.

“From here, the germinating chilli plants in polybags will be distributed to the entrepreneurs identified,” said Abdul Razak.

A project to produce red chilli seeds is also on the pipeline to complement the efforts to produce the ‘hot’ commodity. – Bernama.

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