THE Covid-19 pandemic has made it challenging for people from all walks of life, but getting through months of movement restriction has been even tougher on the disabled.
But instead of waiting for handouts, the Johor Baru OKU Welfare Support Association brainstormed for ways to make ends meet.
The organisation has thus ventured into agricultural entrepreneurship (known as agropreneurship) as a means of generating income to get through these tough times.
Association president Jamaluddin Abdul Malik said the idea to get involved in agriculture came about after members provided their feedback on ways to fend for themselves during the movement control order, aside from relying on government aid.
“Each person with disability has their own challenges to face, and some are unable to venture into other types of entrepreneurship like petty trading or being hawkers as they are hampered by their lack of mobility.
“So we came up with the idea of transforming our members into agropreneurs as this suits each and every person with disability and they can work at their own pace, ” he said when met at the association’s urban farm in Taman Tanjung Puteri Resort, Pasir Gudang.
Jamaluddin said the pilot project, on a 0.4ha land leased from a nearby surau, started in January.
“We have about 300 members in our association but we only enlisted 10 of them in the pilot project.
“To date, they have managed to cultivate more than 2,000 cash crops, namely long beans, chillies, lime, lemon and spinach, ” he said, adding that there were 3,000 more stems that had yet to be planted.
The 43-year-old said the association had managed to use up about 40% of the land and was not able to advance further due to financial limitations.
“We spent close to RM20,000 from our own pockets to transform the bare land into a farm, but it was only after we had gone to such lengths did we realise that our ambitions must be based on reality.
“Currently, we are short of RM10,000 for fertilisers, tools for plant maintenance and improvement.
“We also aim to create a more disabled-friendly environment at our urban farm, which will require more funds, ” he added.
Jamaluddin said he hoped to get assistance from the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) and Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) to improve the urban farm as well as get their input on ways to market the vegetables to a wider customer base.
“The farm is expected to produce its first harvest in June and we have already booked a place to sell our goods at local mini markets besides via petty traders, ” he explained.
Jamaluddin also said that each member received RM750 every month – RM450 as disabled workers allowance from the Welfare Department (JKM) and RM300 from the association.
“We hope to expand the project to other areas or districts if this pilot project is successful, ” he added.
One of the workers, Mohd Aini Azmi, 32, who lost his right foot due to an accident, said he wanted to get back to work after taking one year to recover and living on government aid.
“I was in an accident in 2019 and my right foot had to be cut off.
“I was no longer able to go to work. I depended on allowances from Social Security Organisation (Socso) and JKM for quite some time before deciding that I had to get back on my feet and work, ” he said, intentionally making the pun.
Mohd Aini explained that his duties at the urban farm included watering plants that the sprinklers could not reach and transferring the plants from the pots they were cultivated in, to the ground.
“It is quite easy because we do not have a target for the day, so we work to the best of our abilities.
“The most important part of our job is teamwork.
“We each have our limitations and need each other’s help to carry a plant, dig the ground or clear weeds from the ground, ” he said.
Another worker, Saiful Ahmad, 22, who lost the ability to use his left arm, said he was tasked with cleaning up and arranging pots for planting.
“I can do light digging and move the small pots when needed.
“And if I need help, I will just call any of my co-workers to help me out.
“This is a better option for me and it is a good chance to learn the best way to cultivate and manage plants on a large scale, ” he said, adding that a motorcycle accident five years ago led to his disability.