Bet not many of Malaysian knew there is a chilly variety called ‘Cilibangi’ locally developed by a local genetics scientist nearly three decades ago.
Despite being known as the hottest chilly in the country, cilibangi almost completely disappeared from from local market including its birthplace Bangi, when Associate Prof Dr Ahmed Mahir, 63 retired from UKM in 2003.
However it set to make a comeback following UKM decision to encourage commercialisation of its research findings with the help of the university wholly owned company UKM Technology Sdn Bhd.
“After retiring from UKM, I served in University of Islamic Sciences Malaysia (USIM). There some Ph.Ds students cultivated Cilibangi for their research. But it was only in the laboratory,” said Dr Mahir to UKM News Portal on Wednesday.
A few farmers including one in Kuang tried to cultivate Cilibangi but it was almost forgotten except for a few bottles of its seeds that the scientist kept in a fridge.
After leaving UKM, Dr Mahir brought Cilibangi to Canada where he formed a joint venture company with friends to produce spices for exports. But the call to come home was too strong for this Ipoh born scientist to ignore.
Dr Mahir recently back at UKM to become Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at UKM Technology Sdn Bhd. He plans to work towards the commercialisation of Cilibangi.
All the six varieties of Cilibangi fruit all year long, is disease resistant and grow upright.
Dr Mahir has already been given a plot of a half acre in the UKM campus to cultivate the seeds of Cilibangi since the variety cannot be breeded through tissue culture.
He hopes to get a bigger plot of flat land to enable tractors to be used to harvest the chilis. For a start a small machine using motors will be built at the UKM engineering store after a prototype built earlier could not be reused.
Once the chili cultivation is in full swing a much bigger machine attached to a tractor will be used.
“The machine that I suggested is a modified one from an old model and it can pluck the chilis without disturbing the leaves.
“What is good about the machine is we can pluck all the chilis from each plant to ensure that it will bear more fruits the next season,” said Dr Mahir.
The success of planting and harvesting Cilibangi may in the end allow us to lower our imports of chilli from China, India, Thailand and Indonesia valued at RM95 million per year, he said.