More than two tonnes or about 1,500 rockmelons were sold by students of the Shell LiveWIRE Brunei’s AgroBIZ Paddy Agropreneur Scheme in their first three-day fruit-picking event where members of the public were given the opportunity to harvest their own fruit for purchase.
The rockmelons were grown by 13 students from the Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE), representing the second cohort of the AgroBIZ scheme which aims to equip local youths with the technical knowledge in rice farming and develop their agropreneurial skill.
Speaking to The Bruneian, AgroBIZ representative Tarmizie Samle shared that although the scheme caters more towards the cultivation of paddy, the diversification of crops has always been part and parcel of the programme since its establishment.
“This was to teach the students that other short-cycled crops can be grown while waiting for the paddy to be harvested,” he said, adding that it took 79 days for the rockmelons to be grown from seed until they are ready to harvest.
“Conventionally, buying fruits (in Brunei) has always (meant) going on a trip to the nearest store or market but we wanted to give a different experience,” he said.
“We thought, why not we give customers the opportunity to come out to the greenhouse and pick their own rockmelons straight from the vine? This is a common experience overseas and we thought it would be great to bring more of this experience to Brunei,” Tarmizie continued.
Available in three grades, A, B, or C and priced at $7, $5 and $3.5 per kilogramme respectively, the team managed to sell out all of the ripe rockmelons as roughly 2,100 kilogrammes or 1,500 rockmelons were harvested and sold throughout the three-day fruit picking event.
“The remaining fruits that were unripe or broken were collected together with the vines to be reused as fertilizer,” he said, adding that due to the overwhelming response, “the rockmelons are here to stay”.
“The next rockmelon cycle will start during first week of Syawal (and we have) plans to expand (the rockmelon project) by adding another greenhouse,” Tarmizie went on to say.
For AgroBIZ scheme participant, Uziel Ryan Shayne, who has been under the programme for 11 months, the rockmelons provided him with a “good change of pace”, noting how rockmelon cultivation had a lesser workload compared to paddy.
From mixing their own plant media, applying the fertigation method where organic inputs are injected through an irrigation system to manually pollinating the rockmelon flowers, the students were taught the ins and outs of growing rockmelons including the use of the “one tree, one fruit method”.
This method involves limiting just one melon, often the best specimen, to one vine in order to concentrate all the plant’s nutrients into one fruit, which according to Ryan will make the fruit sweeter, thus creating a premium or Grade A product.
“For some trees, we allow 2 fruits per tree or vine which is (classified as) Grade B but basically Grade A is the sweetest and the flesh is more dense,” he said.
Speaking of the fruit-picking event, Ryan said he felt both elated and at ease seeing customers enjoying their time harvesting their own rockmelons with the help of himself and his peers.
“I felt excited and relieved (that our event was a success) and thinking of the all the processes we had to go through, of growing the rockmelons within those 79 days, all that tiredness, it was all worth it,” the 20-year-old went on to say.
Shell LiveWIRE Brunei is the entrepreneurship arm and is the flagship social investment programme of Brunei Shell Petroleum which has allocated funds to the AgroBIZ scheme under IBTE to provide young, future agropreneurs with adequate technical knowledge in rice farming and to develop their agropreneurial skill.
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN