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Wednesday May 14, 2008

In sync with apple cultivation

The quaint Ba’Kelalan town at the northeast of Sarawak is today synonymous with apples, literally the fruit of one man’s labour.

Tagal Paran, 75, affectionately known as Pak Tagal, is the man credited with cultivating apples in Ba’Kelalan, the only place in Malaysia where apple trees thrive.

Apples are known to survive in the temperate climate but the former pastor’s inquisitiveness and de-termination made them thrive here.

Where others tried and failed, he persevered and triumphed.

In fact, Pak Tagal is confident that one day Ba’Kelalan will provide all the apples that Malaysia needs.

Fruits of his labour: Pak Tagal showing apples harvested in Kampung Buduk Nur recently - Bernama Pix.

Located 900m above sea level, the placid district has a cool atmosphere similar to New Zealand but apples are certainly not indigenous here.

The apples and the annual Apple Fiesta make Ba’Kelalan an enchanting destination for visitors.

Pak Tagal’s younger brother Andrew Balang Paran brought 50 wild apple seedlings from Kalimantan in the 1960s after he saw locals there cultivating the fruit, and the rest is history.

However, only in the mid-1970s did he seriously venture into apple cultivation by taking over 300 apple trees planted on a trial basis on his land by agricultural authorities.

He realised that the trees were dying slowly and the authorities had limited knowhow on apple cultivation.

“I immediately set off for Batu Malang in Indonesia to learn more about apple cultivation and enlisted the services of two apple growers from there.

“I went to Indonesia three times to obtain new seedlings. It was all by trial and error,” he said, reminiscing on his foray into apple cultivation.

Pak Tagal’s 3ha orchard in his village of Buduk Nur now has 2,000 apple trees, and he has four workers to assist him.

About one tonne of apples are produced in a season at his orchard, he said.

The apple trees bear fruit twice a year, normally during the middle and the end of the year.

Warm welcome: Pak Tagal (third left) posing with his wife Yammu and son Mutan (left) in front of Apple Lodge at Kampung Buduk Nur in Ba'Kelalan - Bernama Pix.

The trees are pruned to simulate winter and the leaves are shed manually.

Soon, after the induced stimulus, the trees begin to bloom and bear fruit.

The apples are grown without pesticides and chemicals fertiliser.

There are varieties of apples grown here.

The Manalagi (Golden Delicious), has been renamed the Ba’ Kelalan Apple. The fruit is greenish-yellow in colour and tastes sweet and crunchy. It is suitable for apple pie and fruit salads.

The Anna, which is red on top and yellow below, is sweet and sour and feels soft.

Rome Beauty is green with a reddish tinge at the bottom. It is similar in taste to Anna.

The Granny Smith is green and tastes sour. It’s the apple for cooking and making cider.

The apples are marketed in Lawas and Miri but are in limited quantity.

Pak Tagal is confident that, if people in the nine villages in Ba’Kelalan start growing apples, Malaysia can export apples.

He pointed out that there were other temperate fruits like citrus, strawberries and grapes that could be grown in Be’Kelalan.

He is already experimenting with strawberries and some villagers are cultivating Arabica coffee.

Nonetheless, there is a serious setback.

Ba’Kelalan is virtually isolated as it is located in a remote area close to Kalimantan in Indonesia. Access to the outside world is only through airplanes and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Thus, there is no way to export the apples in big quantities.

But Pak Tagal need not despair as plans are underway for a 170km road from the nearest town of Lawas at the foothills.

He is confident the road will pave the way for big companies to undertake apple cultivation on a big scale, and the apples can move up the value chain when processed into jam or cider.

With the road, Pak Tagal envisions Ba’Kelalan emerging as a leading producer of highland fruits and ve-getables for Sarawak, like Cameron Highlands is to the Peninsula and Kundasang to Sabah.

Nevertheless, apples are not the main produce of Ba’Kelalan.

The fragrant Adan rice (Bario rice) is the main commodity of locals.

Yet, Pak Tagal believes that apples will remain as Ba’Kekalan’s forte in wooing the tourists.

Ba’Kelalan receives up to 3,000 tourists annually, mostly Europeans, and the number is expected to increase.

The retired missionary with agriculture close to his heart is reaping the fruits of his labour.

The genial Pak Tagal and his wife Yamu Pengiran have seven children – Dr Judson, Mutang, Dina, Rangai, Gerit, Martha and Sandra.

Like the apples, Pak Tagal’s family is the pride of Ba’ Kelalan and its people.

His son, the late Dr Judson, was a former Ba’Kelalan assemblyman and state deputy minister. Another son, Mutang, a lawyer, is the former Member of Parliament for Bukit Mas.

The family operates the Apple Lodge homestay facility in Buduk Nur where visitors can get a taste of the customs and traditions of the Lun Bawang people.

The annual Apple Fiesta at the end of March is in the Sarawak Tourism calendar and visitors can see and savour the apples right at Pak Tagal’s orchard.

This humble man has vowed to continue with his passion.

Pak Tagal does not seem to realise that his passion for cultivating apples has made him an icon and helped Ba’Kelalan gain prominence in tourism.

Apples in Ba’Kelalan are no myth, thanks to Pak Tagal. – Bernama


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