Rice revitalization partnership in Tenghilan


Aerial image of the village communities doing work on the -Credit: © Bob Hartley

KOTA KINABALU: A partnership between the communities of Kg Lapasan Ulu and Kg Tinuhan in the Tuaran District, the Sabah Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) and Yayasan Hasanah is revitalizing paddy production on almost 50 acres of village lands in the Tenghilan area.

Sabah currently produces only around 25% of the rice it needs.

The project is facilitated by Forever Sabah, in partnership with KampOng Campus for Ecoliteracy & Change, a learning centre based in this area that shares useful knowledge of the head, heart and hands from around Sabah, the region and the world.

Forever Sabah has brought in Maria Lasimbang from Kivatu Nature Farm, the well-known organic farming training centre in Penampang to help train the villagers in the latest environmentally friendly techniques, and community representatives visited Kg Tambatuon in the Mt Kinabalu foothills of Kota Belud to see the more climate-friendly Sustainable Rice Intensification System (SRI) in action.

Faced with the MCO, and concerned for their livelihoods and staple food, 43 families came forward in June to restore their tradition as rice farmers on family and community lands.  Clearing lands left unused for many years has taken hard work and “gotong royong”.

“It is important that a new generation gets interested and sees benefits from producing rice while our elders are still there to teach us the tradition along with innovations. “Covid-19 prevented us earning money and reminded us of the need and opportunity to return to growing our own rice,” said Betroychiper Hongsui @Chiper, the project coordinator from Kg Lapasan Ulu.

“We are now planting 22 delicious traditional varieties of rice sourced from our own and other villages in neighbouring districts,” added Linah Masud (field coordinator). These local rice have special taste, cooking and nutritional qualities that can earn over RM10/kg in premier markets, which is over five times the floor price in Malaysia.

DID Sabah quickly and effectively stepped forward to restore irrigation canals and drains in the two villages, in time to manage the rains for the field preparation processes.

Daimon Bin Rotop as chairman of the Kg Tinuhan committee said: “On behalf of my community, I want to thank the staff from DID headquarters and Tuaran branch for coming to our villages upon the invitation of Forever Sabah, for jointly inspecting the needed work with us and for completing this important project so quickly so that we can start planting with the new rains”.

“The exposure that I got from the project’s new planting method of SRI is great,” said Samis Enggang, a local farmer from Kg Tinuhan. “It has gotten me interested with the use of organic fertilizers, which is favourable for the health and good for soil care as well.”

Another participant of the project, George Apuk, said, “After six years of not working in the field, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for this project as it is igniting and reviving the will of the farmers who have not planted paddy for a long time.”

Learning of the initiative, Sapulut Forest Development in Kalabakan, generously donated three bundles of fence poles to assist control of buffaloes, which roam freely in the area damaging fields and crops.  Other collaborators are Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Faculty of Sustainable Agriculture and PACOS Trust’s School of Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development Sabah (SEEDS).

Cynthia Ong, Chief Executive Facilitator of Forever Sabah, reflected: “This project emerged from the depths of lockdown, and the concern about communities and their access to basic food needs.

“The idea was seeded in conversation with a few community members and took root overnight as the community gathered enthusiastically around it.  Old plots were outlined using satellite imagery, old drainage and irrigation systems retraced, land preparation requirements studied, village committees organised, and it quickly became apparent that this was something that wanted to happen.”