(From left) Razizan Abd Raman, Adnan Mat Salleh and Mohd Arif Yusof holding Adnan’s ‘Kuih Kapit’ products. Pix by A Ahmad Talib.

HARD work always pays off. Adnan Mat Salleh, a house builder in a Negri Sembilan village, believes in this.

For many years, this has been the principle by which he provides for his family. But, Adnan, 47, is reinventing his life from a house builder and carpenter to a manufacturer of Malay kuih.

In this line of business, he is able to get his entire family involved, a factor that promotes closer family ties. With house building, this was impossible as it was more physical work and required a certain skill set.

His wife, Razizan Abd Rahman, is a key person in the operation as she is the kuih producer. He also employs two other women from his village, thus providing job opportunities.

One of his sons is marketing the family products. It would only be a matter of time before Adnan’s kuih makes it into a wider market, provided he continues to improve in his efforts.

Adnan received help from a mentor, Zainal Abdul Ghani, who operates a big farm on the outskirts of the village.

Zainal started rearing goats several years ago, but has since expanded to selling vegetables, herbs and madu kelulut, as well as opening a café for tourists. He believes that everyone should seize any opportunity available. He spent time and resources studying the village folk as he tried to coax them into action.

Over the past couple of years, he spoke to many village folk. He met the Kampung Serting Ilir head and, together, they embarked on a talent-spotting campaign.

Adnan is one of them.

Another “talent” from the same village is Mohd Sughra Ahmad, 47. Sughra was new to entrepreneurship and required more time to embrace it.

Kampung Serting Ilir is located just a few kilometres from the small town of Batu Kikir. Village head Mohd Arif Yusof, 51, on seeing Adnan and Sughra pursuing their business, has also pledged support to the effort.

Mohd Sughra Ahmad preparing his chilli paste. Pix by A Ahmad Talib

Arif, in between kuih koci and curry puffs, said: “I am all for encouraging my kampung folk to improve their livelihood. In my own way, I have helped young adults venture into business.

“I bought a sugar cane juice extractor and helped school leavers sell sugar cane juice. But, this initiative by Zainal has big potential and is worth supporting.

“From my observation, a lot of people are happy working and earning a fixed salary each month. They are content. The kampung life is also fairly easy.

“Many are content with their pensions if they had worked for the government. This has been the attitude for many years and it is not easy to get them to see new opportunities.”

Zainal’s effort is plain and simple — to improve the livelihood of rural communities by accelerating the growth of economic activities through the creation of sustainable micro enterprises.

This will be the catalyst of growth and create an ecosystem that will ensure continuity. This may well have been a government scheme of years gone by!

But, there is one major difference. This scheme is bottom-up, meaning it is a scheme designed by people who want and are willing to succeed. It is not a scheme forced down on them or made easy for them.

Zainal said: “If a scheme is bottom-up, it has a better chance of success. This is because the participants have put a lot of thought into it and want it to succeed.”

And it is not difficult to see the merit. There are two villagers who are proving that the bottom-up approach has a greater chance of success.

Set in a rural area, Adnan and Sughra have plenty of space to operate.

Adnan has a separate building behind his house to produce his kuih, which includes curry puffs and kuih kapit.

Under Zainal’s guidance, Adnan produces 2,400 pieces of kuih kapit a day compared with 400 before. This has been made possible by new technology and innovation.

Adnan’s kuih kapit is undergoing a transformation, especially in its packaging and marketing. Most kuih kapit producers sell their products in a big plastic jar, with some 50 pieces in it, costing between RM15 and RM20 each.

Adnan will be introducing some 10 pieces in a packet, costing RM4 each, making it more affordable. The actual retail price is still being studied, but one thing is for sure, you can still buy them even if you do not have RM20.

After visiting Adnan, I took a short drive to Sughra’s house.

He produces chilli paste using kampung-grown cili api and turmeric. Sughra is a government servant, but has taken a year’s unpaid leave to learn a new skill.

His chilli paste, which is easy to use, is specifically used to cook a favourite Negri Sembilan dish — masak lemak cili api.

To cook chicken, add two teaspoons of paste to coconut milk and chicken, and cook over a low fire. If you want your masak lemak to be hot and spicy, add more paste.

Adnan and Sughra’s efforts have affected the village in a good way. The village folk can put their idle land to good use. If they plan properly, they can earn more than RM5,000 a month.

Ahmad A Talib is the chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia. He can be reached via ahmadt@gmail.com and aat@pahitmanis

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