Forging vibrant Kota Kinabalu through coffee
Published on: Sunday, September 25, 2022
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Sabah International Coffee Festival organising committee with Mayor Noorliza Awang Alip.
KOTA Kinabalu City Hall set a catalyst programme to re-ignite and empower a once “vibrant KK” after a devastating pandemic shutdown.      

Come and gone were two vibrant international events – GCoM and historic Miss World visit, both in August.

Now, get ready for a week-long Sabah International Coffee Festival starting tomorrow (Monday) at Suria Sabah Shopping Mall.  

Covid-19 has caused an economic shock three times worse than the infamous 2008 financial crisis, according to economist Nariman Beharesh! 

The point is no matter how bad the 2008 financial crisis was, there were no mandatory jabs, no quarantine, no masks, no social distancing, no crippling close-shops, no ban on international travel etc.

Robusta coffee grown in Tenom. 

 But in the Covid saga, mad measures were mounted to diminish business, economic and social activities in return for gains in health.   

Such extreme trade-offs for health gains caused colossal losses in a once vibrant KK thronged by hordes of tourists and robust business. 

So now, everybody is fighting back. 

Smart move – ‘Love Vibrant KK’ catalyst project

There was a smart move by City Hall that I missed until Deputy Director General Lifred Wong alerted me.

The moment Malaysia opened its borders on April 1, City Mayor Noorliza Awang Alip wasted no time in launching the ‘Love Network Programme’. 

Under it there are seven components.

A very interesting component is the ‘Love Vibrant KK’.

Love Vibrant KK chaired by Datuk Susan Chang had swung into an active mode since. 

It looks like this component is living up to its name.

When googled, vibrant means ‘full of energy’, spirited’, ‘lively’, ‘full of life’ – good for KK if it works out that way.     

Two vibrant events – GCoM & Miss World come & gone  

August 15-17, City Hall hosted the International Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM) on Climate and Energy Workshop attended by EU Ambassador, Michalis Rokas and some 20 cities from all over Malaysia.

GcoM Climate and Energy Workshop at Kinabalu Hyatt Regency on August 15-17. 

Visit of Miss World Karolina Bielawska on August 25-28. 

August 25-28, KK attracted a historic visit by Polish Miss World Kalolina Bielawska who pivoted a roaring fund raising Gala Dinner at Sutera Magellan, dropped by downtown KK on Beach Street next morning to present three charity cheques with Mayor Norliza before crowning Miss World Malaysia pageant winner that Saturday night (August 27).       

A re-purposed Borneo Coffee Festival  

This time, as noted earlier on, what used to be called the Borneo Coffee Festival since 2016 has been re-purposed to a week-long “Sabah International Coffee Festival” Sept 26 to Oct 2, at Suria Sabah Shopping Mall.

“This is the 5th of such festival, the difference is this time it is held under the banner of Love Vibrant KK,” said Organising Chairman, Yap Cheen Boon, who is Committee member of Love Vibrant KK.              

Just 1pc of KK population can energise show  

Kota Kinabalu proper has a population of 579,304 while its larger urban area has 700,000 – big enough to make anything vibrant if City Hall can pool their interest together. 

Even just 1pc of these show up means a crowd of 7,000!

This is why economic historians argue that cities are engines of growth, their high population density can generate vibrant productivity gains through specialisation, diversity in business and trade and sheer number of activities and events, hence more jobs, more incomes.  

At the September meeting, Mayor Noorliza reminded Committee members to keep vibrant KK idea upfront.      

Yap explained this was why this year’s festival is bigger.  

Expo Zone & Carnival Zone

“Because of last year’s overwhelming response from both the trade and the public, this time will open up two zones – an Expo Zone at the  ground floor specialised on coffee and coffee industry practitioners, and a Carnival Zone more for locals to participate, to find out more and to explore business opportunities,” Yap said.

“The Carnival Zone will last one week – Monday till Sunday while the Expo Zone will be just 3 days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The focus is different, the crowd can choose their focus,” Yap explained.  

Government support & the tricky launch 

Interest and support from the government has been assured, Yap said.

Deputy Chief Minister cum Minister of Industrial Development, Datuk Dr. Gunsalam Joachim, will do the official launching. 

“I think the best launching time is Friday (Sept 30) when ground floor is opened and of course the presence of Datuk Mayor will be most appreciated, together with of Vibrant KK Coffee Committee Chairman, Richard Lim,” Yap said.  

“We will launch on ground floor Expo Zone and then we will continue to launch later on the 8th floor, so the timing is a bit tricky but altogether we are looking at 90 booths in total,” he said. 

Sabah in bean belt but not producing  

But while Sabahans and Malaysians are great coffee drinkers, they are not great coffee growers.  

Malaysia ranks only 60th in production volume even though we lie within the coffee bean belt.

In fact production volume had declined from something like 40,000 tons in the 1990s and early 2000s to only 3,000 to 4,000 tons today, so upstream output is weak.  

So the more coffee Sabahans consume, the more money and their multipliers effects are lost to bean producing countries, instead of circulating within to energise the State economy .      

Traditional coffee shops – centre of life in towns

This is so even though our humble traditional coffee shops had been a center of life in all towns and neighbourhoods and few places are as familiar as kopitiams.

Their affordable bread, butter, bao, food, cookies etc and social concept are so popular that these classic coffee shops were everywhere the most vibrant centres of local folks.       

Yet, even though Tenom Coffee has a reputation, about 80pc of its coffee beams come from Kalimantan, according to Tenom hailed Tham Yau Kong. 

Among the reasons could be more lucrative crops. 

But even the popular traditional coffee shop may face demise because of prohibitive high shop rentals downtown which threatens to force them out of business. 

Still, the irresistible coffee aroma dies hard.

What we are seeing is a third wave of coffee culture like cafes that appeal to a base of younger urban consumers.  

Top 10 coffee-producing countries

Anyway, the top 10 coffee beam producers are Brazil (3,558000 metric tons), Vietnam (1,830000 mt), Colombia (858,000 mt), Indonesia ( 642,000mt), Ethiopia (441,000 mt), Honduras (390,000 mt), India (329,000 mt), Mexico (273,000 mt), Peru (270,000 mt), Uganda (255,000 mt).   

These are the strong supply producers that keep the rising international coffee demand going.  

A trigger to produce own beans? 

But who knows, the Sabah international coffee festival may trigger local interest to explore upstream coffee production opportunities.   

If that happens Love Vibrant KK project will have done the Sabah coffee business and industry a big favour.   

As yap noted, this year’s event will see a more vibrant ecosystem of activities than the previous four years, comprising the two zones, namely Zone and the Carnival Zone, Yap promised.

Talks, business opportunities and marketing  

The Exo Zone showcases the coffee specific industry, while the Carnival Zone is designed to highlight the entrepreneurial spirit of the coffee industry, such as business opportunities both online an offline, and other food and beverage products and services, he said.   

“For carnival we have video competition and we have talks and workshops to allow visitors to come in and find out about business opportunities. I think there will be at least 200-300 youths from all over the Sabah visiting because they want to find out from what kind of businesses they can go into.” 

“So far we have lined up a few workshop speakers, obviously we have Shopee coming in to explain how exactly they can capitalise their platform to get Sabah products out of Sabah.”

Sabah’s own genes for planting

“We got the Department of Agriculture who are coming to explain about planting coffee,” Yap said.  

“It will be interesting to hear this talk on the gene, the original gene, Sabah’s own coffee genes,” he added  

Corporate Finance 

“We got Sedia coming in to give a talk because Sedia is now actively promoting and funding Sabahans in their efforts, we got Bernas coming in because Bernas also now encouraging Sabah based franchises to be formed, so they are coming in to give talks also. Obviously we got MIDS, Sabah Credit Corporation (SCC), RHB Bank to talk about funding and last we have the Sabah Mobile Truck Association coming in to give talks also,” Yap listed the corporate involvement. 

“To attract kids, more fun, we are going to have an area designated for kids so their parents can spend their time a looking around and kids can have a safe place to nap up and learn some art,” Yap said. 


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December 20, 2014