Budu exporter Mat Ismail Jusoh at an interview at the 14th China-Asean Expo in Nanning, China.

NANNING, China: He can't read, write or even use a mobile phone but it didn’t dampen his spirit. Instead, Mat Ismail Jusoh, 66, was determined to change his life, and he did.

Born in Pengkalan Kubu, Kelantan, Ismail started selling his home-made Budu (famous anchovy sauce from Kelantan) in 1980 with the help of family and friends.

The most challenging part in his business, Ismail said, was the lack of money and equipment when he first started his business.

“It wasn’t easy doing a business when you can’t even read or write. I didn't go to school but I know God will provide. All it takes is for us to work hard, which I did.

“I struggled in the beginning, for about 20 years actually. But with the help of family and friends, I can see back then that my future was getting brighter,” he said when met at the 14th China-Asean Expo (Caexpo), here, recently.

Now, Ismail has been able to sell his Budu sauce all around Malaysia. Not only that, his product is now getting more popular in China.

“I didn’t expect this. I was just trying my luck and I'm so grateful for this big break.”

Although it was his first year participating in the Caexpo, luck was on his side as he had managed to sell about 300 dozen of his Budu sauce.

“Aside from Budu, I also produce fish sauce. I’m so happy today because a restaurant chain in China approached me recently and said that they would like to buy my fish sauce for their restaurants. This is indeed a blessing from Allah.”

On top of that, he had sold more than 200 dozen of the fish sauce at the expo alone.

“Today another company approached me, saying that they too want to import my fish sauce. Many people were skeptical before because I have no education. But, who would’ve thought I actually managed to make it. I believe patience is the key,” said the father of eight.

When asked on how he managed to conduct his business without being able to write or read, Ismail said he was lucky as he had always have friends who were willing to help.

“I can count and usually I conduct business meetings on my own because it’s not difficult to talk right? I’m just struggling with the bills and agreements and all those paperwork.

When he first started in 1980s, few of his friends worked together with him. They helped him with the paperwork.

“But now that my children are all grown up, they have taken over the work and have started helping me,” he said, adding that all eight of his children are now working with him.

What’s special about Ismail’s Budu and fish sauce is that he is generous with the ingredients.

According to him, sellers would usually put too much water that it became tasteless.

“Another thing, I changed the packaging for my Budu sauce into tubes instead of bottles. I want to make it easier for those who travel.

“You can travel overseas and still have your Budu with you wherever you go,” said the humble man.

Recently, Ismail became the recipient of the Agro Bank Innovation Award where he received RM15,000. The award was presented to him by the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek on September 12. Only one person or company would receive the award yearly.

“My success would not be a reality without the help of the East Coast Economic Regent Development Council (ECERDC) who helped me a lot by subsidising 50 per cent of the interest rate (loan) given by Agro Bank,” he added.

The four-day expo, which is organised annually in Nanning since 2004, is a platform to promote cooperation between China and Asean in the fields of trade, investment and tourism.

The theme for this year’s Caexpo is “Jointly Build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, Promote Regional Economic Integration through tourism”.

Mat Ismail Jusoh

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