The Sabah Covid-19 crisis reminds us that the State no longer feeds itself.
We import three quarters of our rice. We are building roads and houses in the paddy fields that were once at the heart of our culture.
Every year we celebrate Kaamatan together but most of our young people no longer learn how to prepare paddy lands or weed the rice.
This year the communities of Tinuhan and Lapasan Ulu in Tenghilan decided to change this and launched a paddy project to restore rice production on 40 acres of village lands.
They have partnered with Kivatu Nature Farms (KNF) to restore traditional rice farming skills with new organic and agricultural techniques, especially the famous “SRI” (System of Rice Intensification) method that increases yields, decreases costs and lowers the methane emissions that cause climate change.
The paddy project is a collaboration between the Tenghilan communities and Forever Sabah, Kampong Campus, Department of Irrigation and Drainage, Veterinar Department and others, and with a special grant for Covid-19 recovery from Yayasan Hasanah.
When UMS students were not allowed to join the project because of Covid-19 SOPs, Yayasan Hasanah allowed instead 10 second-year vocational students from the School of Experiential Entrepreneurship Development Sabah (Seeds) to join in the learning and teaching process under the watchful eye of master trainer Maria @Mamamoi Lasimbang from KNF.
Seeds is a program of Guwas Koposizon College (GKC) established by the Pacos Trust to serve underprivileged youth and enable them to learn practical agricultural, entrepreneurial and life skills in a boarding environment at Lomunu.
Until the recent surge in Covid-19 cases the GKC students came to Tenghilan every 10 days to work, learn and teach in the fields alongside the local villagers.
They have laughed, cried and gotten very sore backs. And they want to tell the world that it has all been life changing.
Shirlyna Boan, 17, from Kg. Madsiang, Penampang, said: “The people here are very friendly; I have learned from them how to use the ‘pelandak’. This is a tool that the community are making themselves that can be used to bury the weeds into the mud below the water level so that they drown and die, while loosening the soil and disturbing the paddy roots to make them grow more strongly.
“I have also learned ‘merata’ (which is preparing the land before planting) and how to take care of the paddy field. In return I will share with the community the knowledge that I have learned in terms of poultry farming, hopefully this knowledge can help those in the village who are interested in raising chickens and ducks.”
Veshly bin Soimin, a 21-year-old Dusun from Kg. Sayap, Kota Belud, said: “I feel the community here is very friendly. Together we have learned ‘menggaris’ (to prepare the land at the plots) and to plant paddy using the SRI system. In addition, they have also taught us the correct method of weeding out grass from the paddy plots.
“Through this project we are also grateful for the opportunity to share what we have learned with the community in this village. Before the end of this project I would like to share with them regarding establishing a plant nursery. In this program I fervently hope that the community secures exposure to producing food crop stocks at scale.”
In addition to students from Sabah, the GKC is privileged to host a group of Orang Asli Temiar students from Gerik in Perak.
Dzoraimi Bin Awan, 17, is one of them. He said: “Through this program I have learned about the way of life of the community in the village of Tinuhan and Lapasan Ulu.”
“I have learned how to ‘melandak’, to ‘merata’, to identify good rice roots and to recognize the traditional foods in the village. During the duration of this project I will learn more about paddy cultivation from the community.
“When I have completed my studies, I will introduce how to grow wet paddy with SRI in my hometown,” he said.
Another of the Temiar students, Rozina A / P Jauh. The 19-year-old lass said: “The opportunity to learn together with the community here is very valuable. The skills I acquired in school can be practiced in the field area. The community in this village is very good.”
“I have learned how to cultivate, ‘merata’, grow rice in the fields and how to produce organic insect repellents. Cultivation of wet paddy fields is a revelation for me, because in our original village we only grow ‘padi huma’ (hill paddy).
“In this project I would like to exchange food recipe with the community. I can exchange the Temiar tribe’s traditional recipes while learning Dusun food recipes,” she added.
In addition to learning about rice and innovation, this project enabled young indigenous people from around Malaysia to learn about each other in friendship and respect, finding much stewardship in the gotong royong and when eating fresh durian together afterwards.