17 April 2020
In Kampung Sungai Berit, a small village in Marudi, Sarawak, a family of nine depend on their 2 acres land for sustenance. For years, farming has been a way of life for Siah Ak Usat, 46 and her husband Klaus Ak Ipor, 56 an enterprising and hardworking couple with four children and three grandchildren. Until very recently, Siah and Klaus, of Kenyah dan Iban ethnicity, have only ever used chemical fertilisers to cultivate their farm.
In February this year, SAM held a workshop on agroecology and agroforestry at its Training and Nursery Centre in Lubuk Nibong. A total of 27 participants, all of whom with farms within their customary territories, attended this workshop. Two of the participants were Siah and Klaus. It was at this workshop, they learnt for the first time about employing sound and sustainable methods in food production and consumption and the impacts of deforestation on the climate. Siah and Klaus learnt to make three different types of organic fertilisers i.e. Farmers Effective Micro-organisms, fish amino acid and vermiwash which were inexpensive and totally free of chemicals, and which would give a higher production yield. Besides the hands-on demonstration at this workshop, the participants also shared their concerns and practical solutions on crop damage due to extreme weathers and the presence of pests.
Equipped with this knowledge, both Siah and Klaus put it into practice what they had learned. They stopped using chemical fertilisers and began making their own organic fertilisers and used them on their crops, mainly different types of native vegetables like ensebi, terung iban, sawi pahit and corn. Two months later, they saw that their farm produced a higher yield, something they have never seen before.
Siah sold all her vegetables daily at the local market in Marudi, saying “with only RM50.00 spent on purchasing the raw materials to make the organic fertilisers, we sold all our vegetables and made a profit of RM800.00.” Siah said that all the produce from her farm are for family consumption and the remainder are sold in the market. She added that, “this was the first time we had a big harvest of vegetables.”
The income from the farm alone is not enough for Siah and her family to survive but it puts food on their table so they would not go hungry. Both Siah and Klaus are very excited about expanding their farm to plant other crops on their land. They have sought SAM’s help to do this. No other farmers in the longhouse they live in are employing natural farming methods on their own farms. Klaus’s advice to other farmers, “do switch from chemical to organic fertilisers like the ones we learnt to make. You will see the difference in your soil and crops. You will be rewarded with a higher yield too.”
SAM has introduced agroecology to many small farmers in the Baram region of Sarawak. The communities of Sungai Buri in Bakong, Long Miri and Long Pilah, Telang Usan in Miri have all benefitted from the agroecology project. The main features of agroecology that SAM introduced to the communities include maintaining soil fertility through organic measures and reducing dependence on agrochemicals. The ecological model of agricultural production, which is based on principles that create healthy soils and cultivates biological diversity and which prioritises farmers and traditional knowledge, is also climate resilient. Healthy soils and diverse ecosystems are also better placed to adapt to the emergence of new pest or an increase in pest numbers under new climate conditions.
SAM’s agroecology and agroforestry projects in Sarawak not only help indigenous communities defend their customary territories, they also ensure that by protecting the forests, communities will continue to be provided with almost all the resources they need including food, water, wood, fuel, shelter, biodiversity, seeds, honey, fruits, medicine and fodder. This is what food sovereignty is, the right of communities to determine their own food and traditional agriculture systems.
Today being the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle, we urge the Malaysian government to respect the rights of all small farmers, develop a national policy on agroecology, aim towards self-sufficiency in food production by enhancing local capacities, allocate funds to support small farmers engaged in sustainable food production and invest in food security projects undertaken by small farmers and local communities.
Lastly we pay homage to peasants everywhere who have worked so hard to ensure we have food on our table.