Baladna CEO Exclusive Part III: Firm aiming for ASEAN expansion amid dairy self-sufficiency projects
The firm is the market leader in Qatar for dairy after famously achieving local dairy self-sufficiency for the country several years back and is one of the largest dairy firms in the Middle East region, but is now looking beyond to achieve international growth.
“At present we are exporting to eight or nine different countries worldwide, but we want to leverage on exports to grow even further,” Jordan told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Exports are definitely what we hope will head strong growth for the company, and we are already building new infrastructure to allow for these exports, such as products with longer shelf-lives and are able to be transported further distances.
“Some of the new products we will look at both as part of innovation and to be made in this new infrastructure are actually products which are unlikely to work in Qatar, but we believe these have the potential to grow in foreign export markets [such as] Africa and South East Asia.”
For the latter, Baladna is looking way beyond mere exports, looking to fully replicate its self-sufficient dairy business model in countries such as Malaysia where a project is already ongoing, which it hopes will help it open up doors to other ASEAN counties as well.
“We very definitely have our eye on the ASEAN region with this work,” said Jordan.
“There are many markets in South East Asia which fit the criteria for such projects, and we are looking at countries like the Philippines and Indonesia for such collaborations too – there’s simply no reason it wouldn’t work in these countries, especially if it works in Malaysia.
“Before achieving self-sufficiency Qatar was actually importing some 90% of its dairy and dangerously reliant on foreign imports – Malaysia is in a similar situation with over 90% of dairy imported.”
Both Indonesia and the Philippines are also heavily reliant on dairy imports to meet local demand – Indonesia imports over 70% and the Philippines virtually all of its milk supply – and both countries are trying to reduce reliance on imports.
Both countries also have primarily hot and humid tropical climate conditions similar to that found in Malaysia, which Jordan also highlighted as a hurdle to overcome in terms of getting sufficient dairy yields to meet local demands.
“One of our main dairy farming and production challenges [will be to] create a suitable environment [for dairy cows] to thrive even when it’s hot and humid such, that high yields, maybe around 40L per cow, can be obtained,” he said.
Getting into ASEAN
For the project to gain credibility in the region though, Baladna needs to ensure a successful proof-of-concept is presented by showing evidence of success, which it is trying to do with its pilot attempt in Malaysia.
“Things have been difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are working to move forward more quickly on this project now and we are very committed to this collaboration with our partner in Malaysia,” said Jordan.
Baladna’s major partner in the endeavour is the government-owned land-management authority Felcra, and the collaboration is now roping in an additional partner in the form of local agri giant FGV Holdings.
Felcra is involved in various agricultural businesses from palm oil to paddy to livestock and more, and its land houses over 100,000 settlers (rural poor resettled on government land to cultivate state-owned plantations to improve economic prospects), and according to Malaysian Minister of Rural Development Abdul Latiff Ahmad, once the dairy project is up and running, these settlers and other local farmers will be the ones to benefit.
“Felcra is committed to diversifying its core business towards Growth and Sustainability, while Baladna’s wide experience and knowledge in this industry will support their collaboration to expand the business exponentially and not organically,” Abdul Latiff said in a formal statement previously.
According to Jordan, the team has been somewhat hampered in progress due to COVID-19, but is now powering through pandemic challenges and will finally be able to do some necessary site examinations come May 2021.
“We have a team of six experts granted permission to enter Malaysia in May 2021 to do an expert technical and feasibility assessment on a selected site in Chuping, Perlis, to move forward with the self-sufficiency project,” he said.
“The aim of bringing in a full team of all required experts is to do the analysis to form a business case on this particular site to share with the Baladna board – once we cross that gate and get a final decision, we will be able to move very quickly to get things in place.
“I am confident that we are moving in the right direction with this, and very positive that this is the start of something good.”
Jordan added that the Malaysian Minister of Rural Development and other government ministers will be visiting Qatar at the end of May as well to progress discussions even further.
This is a three-part series interview, read part one and two here.