KOTA KINABALU: A padi-growing project by a non-governmental organisation is reigniting interest among traditional Sabah farmers.
For villagers in two kampung in the Tuaran district, the "Padi Project" has helped them not only overcome poverty but also to increase their income in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The project, initiated by Forever Sabah in partnership with the communities of Kg Lapasan Ulu and Kg Tinuhan in the Tuaran district about 60km from here, is seeing higher returns with more farmers wanting to get involved.
The pilot project initiated late last year is seeing success with production of 28 tonnes of rice and investment returns of up to 240%, according to a statement by Forever Sabah.
The NGO initiated the project with support from the state Drainage and Irrigation Department and a special grant from Yayasan Hasanah through funds provided by the Federal Finance Ministry.
Forever Sabah chief facilitator Cynthia Ong said three-quarters of the farmers in Kg Tinuhan in the Tenhilan area of Tuaran achieved rice self-sufficiency and had additional stock for sale.
They have also produced the "Wagas Dati" rice brand grown organically under environment-friendly methods. It was launched on March 23.
Two tonnes of rice worth RM30,000 were sold this year and more farmers are now eager to grow organic padi as this earns RM3,000 more per acre than farming with chemicals, she added.
Ong said the project proves that state self-sufficiency can be advanced by providing practical support to smallholders coupled with helping them gain proper recognition in the marketplace for producing a "unique Sabahan heirloom organic product”.
Some farmers involved in the project explained that the younger generation had given up on traditional padi farming as the cost was so much higher than rice imported from Vietnam, Thailand or India.
Saimah Malas, a 61-year-old Dusun woman who carried on farming rice at Kg Tinuhan, said her participation in Projek Padi allowed her farming area of 0.9ha (2.34 acres) and increase her yield to 2,260kg of padi through 11 different kinds of rice with different properties and taste.
The project enabled Saimah to maintain a consistent rice stock to feed her family as well as enough to sell and hire additional labour to manage her fields.
For Saimah and many other traditional farmers, the project has also brought back the community spirit of farming that includes managing irrigation and drainage, keeping buffaloes out of the crops and preventing birds from attacking the crop of a lone farmer.
According to Ong, all the farmers involved so far in this project remain eager to continue in the upcoming planting season, with 60 more of their neighbours now wanting to join in the project.
The Sabah government is continuing its 30-year effort to achieve 60% self-sufficiency in rice production, which currently stands at around 23%.