By Lauren Chew
The crisis of Covid-19, compounded by diminishing forest resources, has exposed many of the dire realities faced by the Orang Asli (native people) community in Malaysia. During the Movement Control Order (MCO), many Orang Asli ran out of food supply and had to rely on temporary food aids due to loss of income. This lack of access to adequate food results in hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition.
Many Orang Asli are therefore inclined to farm for food security. However, many face daunting challenges in farming such as poor soil conditions, long drought seasons, as well as a lack of capital for seedlings, tools, and irrigation systems. This, along with the lack of knowledge and skills on sustainable farming methods, hinder the Orang Asli from becoming self-sufficient farmers.
In order to help the Orang Asli overcome the barriers to farming, Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Malaysia carried out a series of engagement sessions with the villagers to understand their specific needs. Only by understanding the unique obstacles to farming within the context of each village were volunteers able to empower Orang Asli farmers to farm successfully.
Starting in September 2020, a GPF team visited Kampung Terubing and Kampung Teraling to carry out pilot farm plots in the villages. Together with the villagers, they first addressed the condition of their soil by loosening and fertilizing it with mulch consisting of banana leaves and weeds. Once the soil was prepared, the villagers were then able to plant a wide variety of vegetable seedlings into the soil before generously watering the entire plot.
During these hands-on sessions, the villagers not only learned how to regenerate their soil and create their own mulch but also gained the first-hand experience on starting their own vegetable farm.
Within a couple of weeks, what began as an empty plot of dry and dense soil had transformed into a lush mini food forest with trailing green stalks of vegetables.
One of the biggest challenges that hinder Orang Asli farmers from farming successfully are the lack of exposure to proper farming methods, as well as a general lack of confidence in farming as there are not many success stories.
The hope of these GPF farming projects is to use the success of these pilot farm plots to inspire and encourage other Orang Asli villagers to start their own vegetable farms near their homes. Two other families, Aloi and Murni from Kg. Terubing are now growing a wide variety of vegetables including eggplant, chili, okra, long beans, sweet potatoes, and Brazilian spinach. The diversity of the vegetables will not only provide them with balanced nutrition to meet their dietary needs but also provide them with sustained food supply during different harvesting seasons.
Food security is a critical aspect of building resilience among Orang Asli communities. With the success of the pilot farm plots, GPF Malaysia is determined to reach out to other Orang Asli families to start their own vegetable farms. This is part of a new initiative called The OA Eco Farm, funded by Yayasan Hasanah and the Ministry of Finance Malaysia. GPF Malaysia is partnering with Langit Collective, which will be providing trainings on regenerative farming to the Orang Asli families.
We hope that every Orang Asli family can grow and sustain their own vegetable garden that provides them with adequate food and nutrition for many years to come.