By Mariam Mokhtar
In the rustic charm of Klian Gunung, in Selama, a group of enterprising friends, decided to repay society by contributing their expertise to the community. The desire of engineer-turned-farmer, Mohamad Nawawi Hasbullah (Awie) took on a greater meaning.
Expressing a wish to return to his roots, Awie was committed to green farming methods and wanted to preserve the social fabric of rural Perak. He was keen to engage the local community and keep abreast with advances in technological development.
Awie started his farm four years ago and was subsequently joined by four of his friends. They pooled their resources and talents for their joint-venture, the Sungei Rambong Project in Selama.
All the partners lamented the state of the agricultural industry in Malaysia. Jim Lim, the managing director said, “The agricultural industry is neglected and poorly managed. There appears to be an absence of national strategy and low priority accorded by politicians. We import too many products like bananas and pineapples, which Malaysia once produced. The majority of farmers today are over 70 years old.”
The Sungei Rambong Project, an Agro-Aqua industrial scheme, involves the breeding of udang-galah (freshwater prawns) in natural fresh water, using natural foodstuffs. The farm consists of 30 large ponds and smaller agriculture plots. The hatchery, for the udang-galah, is a joint-venture with a fishermen’s cooperative in Sungai Acheh. The most advanced natural breeding technology ensures healthy post-larvae (small pre-baby prawns), with a low mortality rate.
The project is sited in the Klian Gunung area, which is favourable for farming and for prawn breeding. Nestled in the hills with its hot, humid weather, it also has a plentiful supply of natural, running water from the hills.
Lim said, “Our backgrounds are diverse but we hope to develop strategies for young people, and to provide them with skills, training and development. We know there are many disenfranchised youths in Malaysia, including the rural communities, and Awie is keen to help his community. He is an impressive grassroots leader.”
Lim’s enthusiasm shows. “My background is in the social care field, principally in mental health and Child Protection. My company tries to divert young people from crime and help them make better sense and meaning in their life. I work with employment schemes for people with special needs.”
One of the other partners is in Human Resources (HR) and corporate management. As a former HR Director of Petronas, his expertise will be used to devise training and development programmes for employment opportunities within the farming community.
Awie trained as an electrical engineer and spent over seven years in Japan. He realised his desire to return to his roots by involving the local community in farming and associated activities.
The technical driving force is provided by another partner, a scientist in aquaculture and agriculture who is a renowned expert in sustainable green product development.
The final director is experienced in probation, rehabilitation and retraining. He joined after a visit to the farm, which was then in its infancy, during which he was so impressed with the operation that he offered to become an investor.
Traditional male, farm employees are the key workers, and they are supported by nine single mothers, who feed the udang-galah, everyday. The project aims to energise the rural sector by creating jobs in agriculture for youth and disadvantaged people. With emphasis on practical training, the project should generate sustainable employment and produce competitive, sustainable, green farms. Another objective is to reverse the migration of the local youth to urban areas.
Community development would be enriched with the training of farmers, youths and less conventional workers, like single mothers, who would be able to improve their lives and have a sense of belonging.
The single mothers have given encouraging feedback. They are happy to be employed and contribute towards the household income. More importantly, they have a job which offers flexible working hours which mesh with their child-rearing duties.
When asked if the partners were pioneers in green aqua-culture, Lim said, “We are pioneers in the sense that we link agriculture with social and workforce development for both agriculture and community gains. We want to increase and provide sustainable farming skills, using agriculture and aquaculture initiatives for the community. We are building social capital.”
Lim conceded that initially, people were not used to the traditional sustainable and non-chemical, or organic farming. He said, “We found that just talking about what is good about our methods is not good enough, to overcome these objections. We need to show and to demonstrate that the yields and outputs from the ponds are high. This way, many other landowners and small farmers are willing to lease Awie their plots.”
The Sungei Rambong organic udang-galah project appears to make farming appealing and attractive once again. With the introduction of modern, green techniques, it has become more appealing to younger people. The increased interest in green farming technology will benefit the business, the farmers and the community.
Lim’s message for Perakians was, “Perak is blessed with good land for food production and with it, enormous potential for economic growth and potential for future prosperity. Those social gains and raised living standards will see consequential reductions in crime and disharmony.”