Sabah social enterprise supports the livelihood of indigenous women farmers


Rose’s (right) freshly harvested ginger to used to make Everything Tambunan products like ginger floss and ginger juice. Photos: Everything Tambunan

Sabahan homemaker Rose Petrus Payak was 55 when she took a leap of faith and ventured into ginger farming.

In 2018, the Tambunan-based woman became a member of the Women Support Group Tambunan Enterprise (WSGTE), a social enterprise that aims to make it possible for members to make an income for themselves while sustaining its own continued advocacy against gender-based violence.

In the last five years, the mother of nine has seen many positive changes in her life. One of them is being able to earn an income.

“I’ve been a housewife for decades and always relied on my husband for money. My husband is a labourer, and we have always struggled to make ends meet.

It is important for women to work together to overcome issues such as financial freedom and oppression, says Rose (right).It is important for women to work together to overcome issues such as financial freedom and oppression, says Rose (right).

“The reason I joined WSGTE was to earn my own income. I dream that my family can lead a more comfortable life,” said Rose, 60, from Kampung Lubong in Tambunan.

In 2020, she signed up as a ginger farmer in WSGTE’s social enterprise, Everything Tambunan (ET). This community project – mooted by the non-profit organisation Good Shepherd Services (GSS) and supported by Yayasan Hasanah – aims to generate income for Tambunan’s women ginger farmers.

Seventy-one women ginger farmers from 18 villages in Tambunan are part of ET.

These days, Rose earns close to RM150 each month. It may not be big money to some people, but it means a lot to her.

“I am grateful because I am finally earning my own income. The extra money allows me to cover some of my children’s college expenses. The money in my savings account has increased too. Slowly, I can move towards financial independence,” shared Rose, now the vice president of WSGTE.

Tambunan, a valley town, is in the interior division of Sabah and at an average altitude of 750 metres above sea level. It is known for its agriculture-related economic activities, including growing ginger and other vegetables.

The concept of ‘collectivity’ aligns with the spirit of ‘semangat kekitaan’ (community spirit), which promotes a strong sense of belonging among rural communities in Sabah, says Chin.The concept of ‘collectivity’ aligns with the spirit of ‘semangat kekitaan’ (community spirit), which promotes a strong sense of belonging among rural communities in Sabah, says Chin.

GSS executive director Chin Poh Choo said before ET came about, these women earned less than RM30 from the sales of ginger-based products. These days, they have recorded an increased income of between RM60 and RM100 per month.

“Before this project, WSGTE members depended on their spouse or family for income. Their families primarily consumed the produce from their personal farming activities; rarely were the produce sold for additional income.

“Here in Tambunan, 80% of women are involved in agriculture-related economic activities and they make up a substantial workforce in this district. Most of their work tends to remain unseen, undervalued and unrecognised even though they are primary providers of food security for their families and communities.”

In 2015, GSS set up Koonduan Kiau Nuluh Enterprise (KKNE) or the Women of Kg Kiau Nuluh Enterprise, to generate higher income for women pineapple farmers in Ranau. KKNE launched its brand Everything Pineapple, offering products like pineapple jam, pineapple chutney and pineapple juice. The programme’s success has inspired GSS to help B40 farmers in Tambunan.

Tambunan is renowned for its aromatic ginger. Ginger slices are sundried before being packed and sold online. Tambunan is renowned for its aromatic ginger. Ginger slices are sundried before being packed and sold online.

According to Chin, ET is based on the concept of “collectivism” as it involves women from 18 villages working together on a range of ginger-based products.

“The concept of ‘collectivity’ aligns with the spirit of ‘semangat kekitaan’ (community spirit), which promotes a strong sense of belonging among rural communities in Sabah.”

Besides this, ET provides a platform for the members to advocate against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). A portion of the income is channelled towards activities to raise awareness on the issue.

“A key reason we chose Tambunan for this initiative was because of the high incidences of SGBV in the district. The labels for all the products carries an advocacy message such as “stop child marriages” and “stop violence again women.”

Everything Tambunan (ET) is a community project that aims to generate income for Tambunan’s women ginger farmers.Everything Tambunan (ET) is a community project that aims to generate income for Tambunan’s women ginger farmers.ET offers products such as ginger flakes, ginger powder, wild ginger floss and ginger floss.

From the start of the project, the production and development of the products were fully undertaken by the women who worked in clusters based on the geographical location of their villages.

GSS’s role was to provide feedback regarding product taste, packaging and pricing, Chin explained.

“Empowering the women to take responsibility for production, including product development and quality control, strengthens their sense of ownership, responsibility and pride.

“It also motivated the members to understand market forces and to be creative in meeting the demands of buyers. Through ET, the members have successfully created a new stream of income. This has enabled them to cope better with the financial challenges faced throughout the pandemic. Importantly, ET has doubled up as a platform for our core objective: Advocating against SGBV.”

The Tambunan ginger farmers take charge of everything, from the production of their ginger products to quality control and packaging.The Tambunan ginger farmers take charge of everything, from the production of their ginger products to quality control and packaging.

Chin added farmers were also given training in courses like business management skills, women empowerment and quality management.

Rose and many women farmers have benefitted tremendously from the courses. She has learned more about financial management and independence and the importance of standing on one’s feet.

“It is vital for women to work together to overcome issues such as financial freedom and oppression. Women should stand up and empower others to be more independent and confident. Don’t just stand at the back. Show your talents and shine,” she says.

Check out the Tambunan women’s products on shopee.com.my or their Instagram.


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