KOTA KINABALU: “Projek Padi”, a food security project in two villages in Tuaran is set to expand to other villages.
Project facilitator Forever Sabah (FS), in a statement, said the programme witnessed participants from Kampung Lapasan Ulu and Kampung Tinuhan yielding 28 tonnes of rice from 32 varieties.
The programme will be expanded to nearby Kampung Wangkod and Kampung Timbou to increase participation to 121 farming families with 194 acres seeking to regain their food sustainability and improve livelihoods.
“Facilitated by FS with a Yayasan Hasanah Special Grant and supported by the Prihatin Economic Stimulus Package, ‘Projek Padi’ will revitalise land used to cultivate padi and improve livelihoods while exploring new farming methods,” said FS.
Initially, the farmers will learn to map their land, identify rice varieties including lost heirlooms, track agronomic practices and measure harvest outcomes.
“Citizen Scientists” from these villages will work with participating farmers to monitor the harvests and to assess the results of organic and System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methods.
“Although the established way of planting and managing rice planting seems easier, it is not comparable to SRI and organic methods as the latter produces more yield for us.”
Lauzim Pantai, one of the participants, said, with citizen science, they learn which organic materials can be used for repellents and insect traps without the use of chemical pesticides.
“While planting rice with SRI is complicated and hard work at first, but when it is applied, it will become a habit to cultivate paddy, and we definitely want to improve with what we have learned last year.”
FS said, of the 28 tonnes of rice produced, 26 tonnes were consumed by the villagers or stored to cushion the impact of future Covid-19 related economic impacts while two tonnes were sold between RM12 and RM21 per kilogramme, depending on the variety.
The surplus rice was branded as Wagas Dati, which means “our rice” in the Dusun-Tindal language.
Encouraged with the project’s success, FS Chief Executive Facilitator Cynthia Ong said, there is definitely more work to be done.
“Ensuring food security of rural communities in ways that are economically viable and sustainable is an ongoing process.
“Cultivating padi will remain an important project focus and we hope to expand the scope of the project’s engagement to further improve the socio-economic well-being of the community.
“Regenerative agriculture, livelihood enhancing catchment management and eco-tourism are also on the cards.”
The next phase of “Projek Padi” is scheduled to run from this year until 2023. It will see the development of Wagas Dati as a self-sufficient marketing enterprise, and will include buffaloes by restoring grazing reserves in partnership with the Department of Veterinary Services and even explore buffalo riding eco-tourism for locals and visitors.
“One lesson learned is the value of making local rice something ‘cool’ and building of value-added activities, so that youths become keener to getting involved.
“Another lesson is that the rice-farming tradition can best be revived by innovating techniques to improve farming practices.
“There is also a need to grow local talents in marketing of traditional and organic rice varieties that fetch premium rates compared to imported rice.
“Artisanal rice needs marketing and deserves a price premium,” it said.
Project Coordinator Betroychiper Hongsui said that the findings and observations that they have made and documented so far have definitely been useful for rice cultivation community moving forward.
In partnership with Kivatu Nature Farm, a total of 13 trainings have been conducted throughout the first rice season that reached 88 per cent households as well as an exchange visit to witness the climate-friendly SRI in action at Kampung Tambatuon in Kota Belud. Students from Guwas Koposizan College including eight Temiar Orang Asli from Perak gained hands-on training while 33 FS and Pacos Trust staff used the project to teach farmers how to restore Sabah’s rice self-sufficiency, which is currently less than 25 per cent.
“The training helped guide the farmers towards environmentally-friendly cultivation of their fields. “Successful rice production has also drawn burgeoning farmers’ interest and reconnected the older generation with the youths,” he said.
He said the additional value per acre of organic farming was as much as RM3,360 per acre while the ability to grow over 30 heritage rice varieties is in line with sustaining agrobiodiversity under the Convention of Biological Diversity.
“One hope is that our results can be disseminated throughout Sabah to increase awareness of health, the environment and being self-sufficient,” he said. -DE