Sabah farmers overcome MCO challenges with technology

KOTA KINABALU (Bernama): It was a double blow for Hali Lasin when his two sources of income were badly hit following the enforcement of the movement control order (MCO) on March 18.

The 37-year-old tour guide and small-scale farmer who lives in the scenic highlands of Kundasang in Ranau, about 92km from here, found himself with no tourists to take on sightseeing trips.

Not only that, even the vegetables he grew on his farm were left unsold for days as many restaurants in Sabah that used to order fresh produce from him and other farmers in Kundasang had stopped operating after the MCO took effect.

Vegetable stallholders in Kundasang had also stopped operating due to the restrictions on movement, Hali said, adding that his vegetable farm used to generate a monthly income of about RM1,000 for him.

“In my 20 years of farming, I had not experienced anything like what I went through during the early stage of MCO, ” Hali told Bernama.

He said after the MCO was enforced, he decided to focus on his alternative source of income, namely agriculture, as he realised that the tourism industry would be impacted for some time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But I totally didn’t expect the agriculture sector to be badly hit too, ” he said, adding that during the first two weeks of the MCO, he incurred losses of more than RM5,000 as he had spent money on buying fertilisers and seeds and caring for the plants.

Social enterprise to the rescue

Instead of feeling sorry for himself and blaming the government for his predicament, this father of five children aged between three and 15 continued to tend his 0.8ha vegetable plot located near his house in Kampung Mesilau, Kundasang as he was optimistic things would look up soon.

Hali’s patience paid off when he was invited by fellow farmer Azizul Julirin, 32, to come on board a social enterprise the latter had started on March 24 to help market the produce of some 1,000 petty farmers in Kundasang who had been affected by the MCO.

Kundasang is known for its agricultural output as its cool climate is conducive to the cultivation of vegetables such as cabbage, carrot, spring onion, cauliflower, broccoli and capsicum.

Under Azizul’s Kundasang Cashless Agro Supply project, the local farmers’ produce is promoted on Facebook, while orders from the public are made via WhatsApp and payments made online.

“Azizul helped to market my produce. I only produce a small quantity of vegetables but at least it’s getting sold and I’m able to get an income although I’m not earning as much as I used to, ” said Hali, who has known Azizul for a long time.

“Azizul is a shining example of a young man who has creative ideas and whose mission is to help the farmers of Kundasang who are facing challenging times.”

Hali also said that he and his neighbours would barter their excess vegetables so that the local community has enough to eat every day.

“After all, we are all suffering the same fate, so we have to look out for each other. Fortunately for us, there is also a caring non-governmental organisation that has been providing us with essentials such as rice, ” he added.

Unsold vegetables

Kundasang Vegetable Wholesalers and Retailers Association chairman Mariana Taliban, 53, meanwhile, said many of the association’s members have been distributing their excess produce to needy villagers in Kundasang and Ranau to avoid wastage due to the glut of vegetables during the MCO period.

Like Hali, Mariana – who cultivates mainly cabbage on her 0.8-ha plot – was also saddled with unsold produce during the early stage of MCO.

“Not many wholesalers were buying vegetables from Kundasang during that period, ” she said.

According to Farmers Organisation Authority Kinabalu Area general manager Muhammad Irwan Maruji, nearly 90 percent of business operations in Kundasang came to a halt during the initial period of MCO and an estimated 10 tonnes of vegetables were left unsold each day.

However, he said, the situation improved after the state government allowed wholesalers to procure vegetable supplies from Kundasang and supply them to retailers in Sabah as well as Sarawak.

Hali, meanwhile, is happy that several economic sectors were reopened under the conditional MCO from May 4 to June 9 as it would spell higher demand for vegetables.

“When the MCO was first enforced, I was wondering if I should continue planting vegetables as there were no buyers then and I had no capital and had only limited stock of fertilisers and pesticides as no shops were open then.

“Now I am much more confident and have started cultivating again. To ensure that I will have fresh produce to sell after the conditional MCO is lifted, I am now planting vegetables that I can harvest over the next one to four months, ” he said.

Mariana, too, resumed planting activities in early April and instead of focusing solely on cabbage, she is also cultivating corn, tapioca, sawi (leafy green vegetable) and pepper as she feels there is a good demand for these crops. – Bernama

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