Cover Hilmi (middle) and his family have been running Mutiara Figs since 2016

In the first part of our Meet The Makers video series, we meet a family of architects maintaining a sustainable fig farm in the heart of Shah Alam

The sun is out in full glory over Shah Alam. It’s swelteringly hot, the kind of day most people would prefer to spend indoors with a cold drink. 

For Mutiara Figs co-founder, Mohd Hilmi bin Yusoff, this is wonderful weather. Sunlight helps convert the potassium in his fig trees into sugar, resulting in sweeter crops. There’s a spring in his step as he takes us around his family’s farm.

Next to him, his daughter and fellow director Aliyaa Suraiya binti Mohd Hilmi direct our attention to some of the fruits growing nearby. “Figs have three types of colours: red, green, and black. Malaysians love red figs because of their large size. In terms of taste, the red is juicy and succulent, and the green has a very unique, mild sweetness to it. As for the black, it’s creamy, rich, and sweet,” she enthuses.

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A farm is probably one of the last things you’d expect to find in the heart of industrial Shah Alam. Yet, Hilmi and his family have been running Mutiara Figs here for almost half a decade. It’s hard to believe but this place started out as a side project after Hilmi wanted his wife, Faridah Hasni binti Ramli, to improve her diet.

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“My father loves fresh and dried figs from overseas. He also loves landscape and gardening. He always wanted to plant figs and he wanted my mother to eat them every day because they have a lot of health benefits for women,” says Aliyaa.

Instead of just buying figs from overseas, Hilmi had a dream: to grow them here. To some, this seemed a crazy idea. After all, figs are not native to this part of the world. Would they take well to the tropical Malaysian climate?

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Indeed, Hilmi’s first attempt at cultivating this crop with fig trees from Turkey and Australia proved unsuccessful. Nevertheless, he persevered and in 2014, finally discovered a cultivar that could thrive here. His family successfully planted a batch in their house the following year and it was not long before Aliyaa suggested they continue commercially.

In 2016, Mutiara Figs was born. The business is a family affair managed by directors Hilmi and Faridah together with daughters Aliyaa and Ilani Hana Masturah bin Mohd Hilmi, and son Mohamad Fariz bin Mohd Hilmi. All five are trained architects.

The family's two-acre farm comprises four greenhouses and currently houses over 3,000 fig trees. Four local agronomists are employed to help with every aspect of fig growing, from dealing with plant disease to maintaining fruit quality after harvests.

“Figs produce fruits very fast, unlike other crops such as durian, mangoes, or pineapples. Within four to five months, our plants already bear fruit and they only take one or two months to ripen in our farms,” Aliyaa says.

“Planting fig trees is very tedious. They need attention and care to make sure they are in the right conditions to bear fruits. In cold countries, they are seasonal fruits. Ordinarily, the season starts around August to October in Turkey. In Africa and Australia, the season is around March till May. But in Malaysia, we try to make sure our trees bear fruits all year round through crop rotation.”

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The family are also firm believers in sustainability. Mutiara Figs carries out rainwater harvesting and recycles its soil medium. Fertiliser is regulated through a precision fertigation system, which manages pH, salt content, and temperature.

“When we prune our plants, we use the branches to propagate new plants. The rest of the plants are used to make tea products. We only use organic pesticides and have received a certificate of Good Agricultural Practice from the government,” says Aliyaa. “We supply many four- and five-star hotels in Kuala Lumpur and local fine dining restaurants. There’s a lot of emphasis on buying local nowadays, which means a smaller carbon footprint when transporting our harvest.”

As for the future, Aliyaa says Mutiara Figs is interested in venturing into the health industry.

“Currently, our research is prioritising health issues. We look forward to producing something that can help the community, perhaps in terms of supplements because figs have a lot of health benefits and so should be consumed by everyone. We want Malaysians to be able to eat figs daily!” she says.

Meet the Makers is an intimate video interview series in partnership with Volvo, where we speak to the people who make our food and learn what goes on behind the scenes in their industry. 

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