Reaping the fruits of their smart labour


Hopes Malaysia hosting a farming workshop with villagers in Kampung Talungan, Kota Belud.

Star Foundation and Sabah NGO help rural farmers implement sustainable techniques

IMPROVING one’s life circumstances is never easy, but some villagers from rural Sabah have proven that if one puts in the effort, the hard work will eventually pay off.

Thirty households from remote villages in Kota Belud are now generating higher income from farming work after implementing sustainable farming techniques taught by Hopes Malaysia Welfare Association.

The 12-month training programme was held as part of the “Rural Crop Diversification via Vermiculture Project” funded by Star Foundation under the Star Social Impact Grant (SSIG) initiative.

With a RM50,000 grant, the project aimed to upskill and enable rural farmers to be more self-sufficient in their existing farming work.

Villagers were taught how to use African Night Crawler worms to compost organic waste into nutrient-rich soil with improved soil aeration and fertility, ultimately allowing better crop diversification.

From soil to success

Hopes Malaysia co-founder June Wong said the beneficiaries were from the B40 income group and previously relied on tapping rubber for their livelihood.

“Rubber tapping provides unstable income as it’s dependent on the weather. They used to earn RM600 per month, but now through this project, they can increase that by up to 55%.

“Besides, their expenses are reduced when they consume home-grown vegetables,” she added.

Project beneficiary Aineh Pitah, 36, from Kampung Pinoloboh said she lacked confidence in the initial stages but soon found the project enjoyable after learning many new things such as composting organically for border dressing, caring for plants in nets and fertilising with worm compost.

Kansimin (left) selling her abundant harvest at the town market.Kansimin (left) selling her abundant harvest at the town market.

“I went through many challenges and failures with experimental plants, but through perseverance and a desire to continue learning, I started to get good yield from my farm,” she said.

Aineh said brinjal, long beans, choy sum and bok choy at her farm grew well and were heavier in weight as well as larger in size, with less pest infestation.

“The extra income earned from selling surplus produce helped pump up my family’s income and added pocket money for my children,” she added.

Given the project’s success, Aineh hopes to expand her farm and diversify the types of fruits and vegetables she grows.

“Also, I want to set an example for the younger generation by being an organic farmer without using chemical fertilisers,” she said.

Her experiences are shared by another project beneficiary, Molly Toni from Kampung Mangkulat.

“I never thought I would succeed in farming.

“With the team’s support, I harvested my first batch of crops and continued farming since then.

Wong (centre) and Hopes Malaysia co-founder Sam Lee (right) visiting Aineh’s farm.Wong (centre) and Hopes Malaysia co-founder Sam Lee (right) visiting Aineh’s farm.

“We also don’t have to worry about nutritional benefits because the vegetables are grown without pesticides and chemical fertilisers,” the 37-year-old farmer said.

The project also helps to strengthen their family bond as they work together on their small farm.

She added that the process of tending, nurturing and watching the plants grow had given them a shared sense of purpose and responsibility.

Equipped with the new-found knowledge and skills, Molly hopes to share her expertise with fellow villagers so that they can also experience the same sense of fulfilment and joy.

Kampung Tuguson farmer Kansimin Dalani, 60, is another shining example of how vermicomposting can transform the fortunes of rural farmers.

“If not for this project, I would not have the farming tools, skills and information to succeed. I hardly had any successful harvests before this.

“Our life has really changed in one year. We went from having a lot of stress because of small vegetables and pest attacks to now harvesting more than we can eat,” she said.

Growing sustainability in rural areas

Though the project has seen success among the beneficiaries, it is not without challenges for Hopes Malaysia.

Wong said extreme weather conditions adversely affected harvest in the second half of 2022.

“We had so much more rainfall during the monsoon season that left some farmers demotivated,” she said.

Tackling this, the team resorted to creative solutions such as covering foliage with UV films and encouraging villagers to grow more weather resilient fruit-bearing vegetables such as tomatoes, ladies’ fingers and pumpkins instead of leafy vegetables.

Despite the challenges, Wong said it brought the team great joy when the villagers showed their harvested crops and shared stories about their vegetables’ high demand, inspiring them to grow and cultivate even more.

“I remember one time when a beneficiary pointed at her vegetable bedding and said this bed of vegetables has been booked. She was so proud of her achievement and I felt the same for her,” she said.

On average, the farms can yield up to 50kg of leafy vegetables and fruits each month.

Throughout the year-long project, more than 1,000kg of excess crops were sold through Hopes Malaysia’s Tamu Kita stall.

All the sales proceeds, amounting to over RM17,000, were given back to the farmers as supplementary household income in addition to their regular sales.

With the mission of helping rural communities in Sabah break the cycle of poverty, Hopes Malaysia made a meaningful difference to the lives of more than 10,000 rural folk across 12 villages in Kota Belud through various long-term projects over the past seven years.

Some of their projects included installing natural gravity water systems to provide remote villages with clean water access.

“Sustainability is the motto of our organisation. We are not involved in one-off projects, because we believe that developing and empowering a community is a long-term process.

“We will not stop here, but expand our footprint across the Kadamaian, Kota Belud area,” added Wong.

Hopes Malaysia welcomes public contributions to support its work. Donations can be channelled through its website hopesmalaysia.com or contact it at hopesmalaysia@gmail.com for more details.

SSIG is an initiative by Star Foundation aimed at supporting impact-driven and sustainable projects by NGOs and social enterprises to better the lives of local communities and the environment.

Application for the third cycle of the annual SSIG is now open. Changemakers with project ideas that are aligned with the grant’s five focus areas are encouraged to submit their proposals and relevant supporting documents at bit.ly/starsig by April 2.

Star Foundation is the charitable arm of Star Media Group, which aims to deliver meaningful initiatives with lasting outcomes to diverse groups of beneficiaries.

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