The humble Kenaf plant is poised to change the game for housing, automobile, and quick modular homes, a long-awaited reality. Qiraat Attar converses with the Group CEO of Kenaf Venture Global, Jazman Shahar Abdollah about this wonder crop and the future it promises
When we caught up with Jazman Shahar Abdollah, Group CEO and co-founder of Kenaf Venture Global, he was gearing up to receive an award for CSR undertaken by the company for their work with the United Nations Office for Disaster and Risk Reduction, to rehabilitate refugees made homeless by the crisis of war in their homelands.
As the conversation unfolds, Jazman reveals himself to be a humble man, a thorough businessman heralding the era of a crop so thoroughly utilitarian and sustainable that it may potentially change the way we approach housing, real estate, and a whole lot more. However, what sets him apart is his vision for the world and his sensibility, which represents a new class of leaders and entrepreneurs who look at business beyond the transactional.
Rooted in versatility
A versatile agro-commodity, Kenaf is the new commercial crop on the block, alongside the likes of rubber and palm oil, whose uses supersede its simple harvesting practice. The many applications of Kenaf in the building materials industry are a step in the direction of sustainable infrastructure.
Jazman explains how KVG is ahead of the curve. “The planting part is done exclusively by our team at KVG itself. After the harvest and the processing, we get the fibre and the core, which are the by-products. The core can produce the kenaf particle board, which is like plywood but is stronger, lighter, and cheaper. These are used to design and manufacture other commodities.”
“The core yields the pulp and paper. From the paper, one can produce food trays and water filters, while the core produces building materials that are used for making homes.”
Jazman is confident of Kenaf’s immeasurable potential, which is yet to be fully utilized for the local agricultural development. More than just a crop, Kenaf can be turned into a commodity that can benefit the nation in various aspects of socioeconomic and national development.
Modular homes have been envisioned for a long time, but the unmalleability and permanence of existing building materials relegated it to a pipe dream. Kenaf, however, could accelerate this dream, even bring it sharply into our present.
Jazman’s excitement is palpable as he says, “We have one crazy idea. Wealthy people like to spend their money building houses, purchasing cars, and other avenues. Once they are bored, they may sell the car, but one thing that they cannot do is to simply abandon a house because that is comparatively difficult. So, what we can do is design a house made of kenaf building materials made to their preference, and six months or one year later, if they wish a change, we can dismantle it easily and on the same piece of land redesign an entirely new house. The design can change based on the weather or their idea and aesthetic. Imagine being able to redo homes, the way we opt for different clothes every Eid. With Kenaf, we can build homes as fast as they can be dismantled because it’s cheaper than regular construction by almost 30%. While constructing a house traditionally takes approximately six months, with Kenaf, we can do it in a shorter time, like two months.”
Apart from the variety demanded by those living in the lap of luxury, Jazman is aware of the significant role Kenaf can play in the push for sustainability around the world. “Worldwide, people talk about constructing sustainable cities from scratch, where people only consume organic food or use bikes alone for transportation. But do you know the real culprit of the carbon emissions problem? It is the building material and the wastage that occurs when constructing these cities. When you use concrete and cement, that contributes to 40% of the carbon emission.
With Kenaf, we can build the house within a day and there is no wastage of raw material. Furthermore, the homes we build can withstand extreme weather. Picture living in Qatar, or Dubai, where it can go up to 50-degree Celcius during summer and the opposite end of the spectrum in the winters. Kenaf is an insulator. It filters the weather from outside to inside, so the interiors will stay at normal room temperature regardless of whether it is hot or chilly outside. Thus, it can also be used in the automobile industry to be the insulator inside the vehicle for the roof and other extremities, which will keep the AC inside the car and not leak out. Finally, we are experimenting to see if the material could actually be bulletproof, which of course has a lot of safety uses.”
Investing in a better future
A company as visionary as KVG can thrive and go full-steam ahead with the support of the right kind of investors who envision the same goals and do not believe in compromising them. As Jazman points out, “One of the sectors that people are investing in is something that is least affected by the pandemic, which is agriculture or rather, the agro-commodity industry. Kenaf is the third-largest agro-commodity in Malaysia. Just like rubber or palm oil, Kenaf is planted across thousands of hectares and utilized across a variety of applications and has been named as one of the important commodities in Malaysia.”
He also expounds further on the nature of investors that KVG is excited to share its vision with. “Our fund size is 1 billion US dollars. There are three types of investors who can invest in this company — starting with retail investors, whose minimum investment size is 2.5 million dollars per person. The second level of investors is the sophisticated or institutional investor – this is what we call private placement. It can be a family, a business, or an organization. The size of investment that we are looking at is about a minimum of 10 million dollars.
The biggest chunk of investment comes from a bank or a bond, which in Islamic terms is called suku. We are currently working to acquire that; talking to some prominent families here in the UAE and Qatar. The size of the investment is between 50 to 100 million dollars.”
Despite the agro-business being relatively new to the UAE market, Jazman is confident about drawing valuable investors to partner up with them because of the results that KVG guarantees.
“We offer a very lucrative return to the investors since this is the agro-commodity business. Moreover, since we have the right fund size, these kinds of huge returns are something that only this business can offer.”
KVG’s business setup also aids them in maximizing their margins. They start with the upstream portion of the business, where they plant the Kenaf themselves. This feeds into the processing unit to obtain fibre and core, forming the midstream business. In the final step, they utilize the investment to move downstream, creating and designing their own final product. As Jazman explains, having all three levels under KVG’s ambit allows them to control every aspect more effectively, minimize waste and losses and increase revenue. Such a system proves immensely beneficial to investors.
Without a hint of hyperbole, Jazman discusses their projected revenue. “Within a year, we project to have one billion dollars in revenue. We are looking at a roughly 5 billion dollars revenue even as a short-term projection, within the span of two to three, or a maximum of five years. The subsequent projections will go higher than that.”
Beyond business, KVG is also looking at creating more job opportunities through further establishment, allowing more people to have the opportunity towards a superior quality of life. In addition, they also aspire to be the nucleus of the national economic income of Malaysia in the near future. Hence, KVG does not only aim to generate tangible production and revenue but also to produce intangible revenue to serve the development of mankind and environmental health restoration.
With the pandemic receding, investors are looking to place their trust and money in reputable businesses. He makes a strong case for why agro-commodity ventures, especially Kenaf, might be investors’ best bet. “Kenaf needs only 100 days to harvest, which means investors don’t have to wait years for the returns. That’s beneficial because these days, with the state of the world in jeopardy and wars that rage without warning, businesses are worried about their investment. But with Kenaf, you plant the crop and three months down the road, we have the harvest. And you can see that in income ready from there. Having secured investment, we are determined that we want to go full-steam ahead with the harvest and production and guarantee our investors that they will get their share of the returns.”
The Dubai connection
Through the establishment of Ar Rizq Capital Berhad Investment LLC, KVG’s investment holding company, it has been able to venture into the development even further, opening the door of opportunities to stakeholders from all levels. The stakeholders include traders, collaborators, business partners, and workers. Ultimately, ARCB is the platform for the company to explore the vast market for Kenaf and its products at an extended level. The exploration anticipates the involvement of stakeholders from different backgrounds of industries and nationalities. The enormous participation of stakeholders can expedite the achievement of sustainability in the targeted sectors.
“We foresee Dubai as the right place for us to do our fundraising exercise. We’ve already discussed this with many parties here, both internally and externally. Moving forward, we plan on how to raise the funding and then send it over to Malaysia. Thus, ARCB is instrumental for it is our investment holding firm in Dubai.”
Jazman displays confidence in Dubai’s potential. “For most companies and countries, business is only just starting to pick up. But Dubai is one of the countries that has already recovered and making progress and thus, is definitely the right hub for the companies moving forward after the pandemic.” Besides Dubai, KVG also has encouraging ties with other UAE countries and the Middle East, such as Qatar.
Homes away from home
Philanthropy and humanitarian work are more than just a corporate responsibility to KVG; it is part of their key agenda. Under Jazman, the company is in partnership with the United Nations (UN), striving to contribute to the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), which is the perfect organization to work with to promote sustainability.
At a recent event in Dubai, ARCB and the United Nations embarked on a partnership with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). The focal point of this partnership shall be the issue of refugees all over the world. Their earnest efforts are to approach the challenges of sustainable development, particularly in developing cities for refugees and other possible hurdles that can be addressed tactfully through the partnership.
The refugee crisis has worsened due to the onslaught of wars, and Jazman is acutely empathetic to the issue and their rehabilitation. “KVG is leaving no stone unturned in their accommodation. As a result, we have a better understanding of how UNDRR can use our work and products of Kenaf for that program or for that method. The noble people of Dubai want to be part of this endeavor; this is a joint effort with them.”
While the world today is inundated with injustices, Jazman has identified the cause of the refugees as one that needs urgent attention. “We have all witnessed the turbulence happening in the world. Given everything that is transpiring, we chose to sign with the United Nations and the UNDRR because they have programs such as the refugees’ programs to offer them survival and a chance to start over. Personally, I read a lot and watch many programs on TV about how people suffer because of war and conflict in their country. We have seen how these refugees migrate from place to place asking for help.”
Helping out and sheltering them is a global prerogative for Jazman. He is firm about how KVG can help rebuild their lives with housing made of Kenaf. “We have the technology that can build the house within a day, and you can relocate the house also from time to time, wherever the need be.”
Humanity beyond profits
KVG represented this cause under the flag of Malaysia at the UN’s COP26 summit, making a valiant pledge to combat climate change.
“Whether people know KVG or not, they should know Malaysia. Our country has always been on the frontlines, regardless of whether there is a tsunami or any other natural disaster. I believe that our participation at the summit will highlight Malaysia’s efforts and act as a benchmark to other companies in Malaysia to come forward and help the world.”
Jazman talks about how his ideology has shaped over the course of his serving as Group CEO of Kenaf Venture Global.
Three things were of paramount importance when KVG started – wanting to be a nucleus, a game-changer, and the economic engine after this pandemic. And because of those three things, it has stayed on the right track. Still, according to Jazman Shahar Abdollah, those very three things do not make the company sustainable and relevant to the world.
With a smile of satisfaction he concludes, “We need to find more reason on why we do this business. So, we chose a bigger agenda to combat climate change and global warming issues. Thus, we aligned with the United Nations and their seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. All I can say is that it is no longer about the profits but more about how we make ourselves more relevant to this world. That is our legacy.”