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Replanting life in the kampung with organic rice PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 22 February 2014 03:27

by Chen Shaua Fui

Part 2

A NEW generation of young paddy farmers may soon be bringing life back to rural communities if the current trend in growing organic rice gains momentum.

In coming years, this new breed of rice growers will tend to their own small plots in their kampungs, living close to nature and having their feet planted knee-deep in muddy fields. And if they are anything like 20-year-old high school graduate Mohd Rajaie Akmal, they will wear big smiles on their tanned faces.

Rajaie finds bliss working in the paddy field in the SRI Lovely organic farm near his home in Kedah, taking home a salary of a thousand Ringgit for several hours’ work a day. In Rajaie’s case, most of this income is saved.

After working hectically at a fish factory for a year, Rajaie went against the tide to resettle back home while his peers left home for the city, either to further their studies or work in factories.

Rajaie is one of several farmers working for retired army officer Zakaria Kamantasha, who is running the SRI Lovely farm using the co-operative system. Besides growing rice on the 10ha farm using the System of Rice Intensification(SRI) method, Zakaria breeds fresh water fishes and nurtures bees for honey.

The co-operative has 50 members, but only farmers who work in the paddy field would be paid salaries, while the rest would get dividends according to their share of investment. Currently, the farm employs six full-time and six part-time farmers.

“I want this to be a model where farmers can get this amount of pay (RM1,000 plus a contribution to the Employees Provident Fund), because farmers grow the food for everyone from the king to a kid, but often they are looked down upon because of the nature of their work and the fact that they did not get any salary,” Zakaria said.

In addition, an incentive would be given to the farmer after the harvest season, so their salary could come up to an average of RM1,800, he said.

The housewives who live nearby can also plant vegetables in the farm to reduce their food bill, as well as learn how to make organic fertiliser.

The whole point of this project, Zakaria said, was to bring back the community culture and to develop the “remote areas” by bringing back young people to the kampung, by providing them job opportunities in organic farming with a stable income.

“If there are no young people, there won’t be a future for the kampung. The things that I do here can open their minds, especially after we see many foreign researchers who come to study what we do,” he said.

Currently, most of the rural areas in Malaysia, be they small towns or villages, are suffering a haemorrhage of young blood to the city where more opportunities and options beckon.

According to the World Bank, in 2010, 72.2% of Malaysians lived in urban areas while 27.8% lived in rural areas. Hence, the annual rural population growth is -1.65% while annual urban population growth is 2.89%.

Similarly, in Sri Menanti, the Royal town of Negri Sembilan, hundreds of kilometres away from Kedah, Tunku Kamil Ikram Abdullah, a member of Negri Sembilan royal house, shares the same sentiments as Zakaria.

Tunku Kamil believes that organic farming is the way to go, and trusts that this new rice cultivation technique not only can revive the paddy growing culture in the Sri Menanti valley, but can also provide another way of living to the young kampung folk.

“People left the kampung for economic needs, but they are no better off. They are deeper in debt because of housing and car loans, and they are barely able to make ends meet,” he said.

Looking for an alternative economic model, Tunku Kamil invited Mohd Affandi Ismail from Infoculture Sdn Bhd to revive a 10-acre piece of land to grow paddy.

He told that scenes of green paddy fields were part of the memories of his kampung life in Sri Menanti and the project would bring this back in an economically positive and sustainable manner.

Further, the farm, with its landscaped paddy fields, could become an eco-tourism destination.

There was also a plan to rehabilitate an abandoned house close to the farm into a homestay, for visitors to stay and learn about organic farming, he added.

This would help the local community to generate income and develop the services industry and small businesses in the area.

The plan ties in well with the Economic Transformation Programme(ETP), which has computed that about 10% of total tourist arrivals into Malaysia are ecotourism-related.

The economic potential is not small, as the tourism industry generated RM36.9 billion in gross national income (GNI) in 2009.

Mohd Affandi pointed out that many people have started to contact him to learn how to revive abandoned land. Among them are university graduates who are considering an alternative to a nine-to-five office job.

This points to the emergence of a new generation of paddy farmers to fill the gap left by a lost generation of young farmers that was lured away from the countryside since the industrialisation policy was put in place in 1980s, with its attendant urbanisation and economic migration.

The cost of reviving an acre of land is between RM4,000 and RM5,000 and a farmer can begin on a small scale with two to three acres. The cost is lower than the conventional way but takes more work, such as growing seedlings, producing organic fertiliser and building an irrigation system. Further, it takes a few seasons for the land to be productive again, but it was worth it, said Affandi.

Although the SRI method is praised as an economical and environmentally sustainable way of growing rice, its implementation is far from being straightforward. Farmers who talked to are reluctant to adopt the method as they have no confidence that it will work.

This is because they have so much at stake in the paddy harvest that the fear of low yields is formidable. Besides, they would no longer enjoy any fertiliser, pesticide and paddy subsidies on which they have become dependent.

For proponents of the organic rice revolution, that is a tough challenge to overcome.


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Last Updated on Saturday, 22 February 2014 03:36