SEMENYIH: From a distance, the sprawling green fields of tufted grass in Kampung Sasapan Batu Minangkabau resemble padi fields.
On closer inspection, one will get to see clumps of lemongrass, or serai as it is known in Bahasa Malaysia, growing in abundance.
This rustic village and the surrounding areas of Beranang, about 10km from Semenyih in the Hulu Langat district of Selangor, are among the largest producers of high-quality lemongrass in the country.
Lemongrass, a perennial tropical grass with long, sharp-edged blades, is known for its slightly sharp and lemony flavour that titillates the taste buds.
Its aromatic bulbous stalk is widely used in Malay, Indonesian, Thai, Sri Lankan and Indian cooking.
Lemongrass is also said to have a host of health benefits. It is turned into essential oil and also used as a mild insect repellent.
In a place where almost every household has several clumps of lemongrass growing in their front yard for their own use, some 500 villagers in Beranang have planted lemongrass on their smallholdings, covering an estimated 283 to 324ha, for commercial purposes.
Their daily yields of not less than five tonnes are snapped up by wholesale markets, factories and restaurants in the Klang Valley, as well as in Negri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor.
Among the villagers in Kampung Sasapan Batu Minangkabau who have their own lemongrass smallholding is Nor Azman Md Said, 44, who has a 2.4ha plot.
He said 30 years ago, Beranang had a lot of padi fields but over the years the drainage system in the area became problematic, leading to many of the farmers giving up padi cultivation.
“The villagers then decided to plant lemongrass as they knew the clay soil was suitable for its cultivation. Like padi, lemongrass grows well in moist soil, and is easy to maintain too,” he said.
Nor Azman, who took over the lemongrass smallholding from his father, said several types of lemongrass such as serai peha ayam, serai gajah and serai kampung were grown in Beranang.
His kampung itself is known for serai peha ayam which, he said, matures within six months and yields aromatic and thick stalks suitable for preparing dishes like tom yam.
“There’s good demand for serai gajah in Negri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor.
“This particular lemongrass is less aromatic but its stalk is thick and the plant grows to a height of one and a half feet (45.7cm),” he said, adding that the more subtle aroma of serai gajah suited the traditional dishes of the three states.
“In the markets in Beranang, lemongrass does not sell well simply because most of the people here grow their own lemongrass,” he added, smiling.
Nor Azman said the local farmers, however, were not able to cope with the high demand for their lemongrass.
“As it is now, we have used up all our land for the cultivation of lemongrass.
“And, after cultivating it, we have to wait for five to eight months before we can harvest,” he said.
Nor Azman said a bunch of lemongrass weighing about four kilogrammes can fetch about RM11, while the yield from a one-acre (0.4ha) plot can rake in some RM7,000 to RM8,000 in earnings.
Farmers Organisation Authority Beranang area manager Shafeq Mahzan Mohd said almost 80% of the income of the local community is generated from the sale of lemongrass. — Bernama