KOTA KINABALU: A farmer who tried her hand at planting herbs and edible flowers as a hobby has turned it into a source of income not only for herself, but a group of housewives in Ranau district as well.
Irene Mositol, 31, founder of DumoWongi (scented farm), now has more than 70 people working with her.
She buys fresh produce from local planters and handles the packaging, quality control and marketing.
She was recently named grand winner for the Social Impact Category in the 2022 Shell LiveWIRE global Top 10 Innovators Award, an entrepreneurial competition which rewards entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence in innovation.
The mother of one won US$20,000 (RM89,600) after beating 195 entrepreneurs from 17 participating countries around the world.
Mositol said she initially wanted to get into vegetable farming.
“However, when officials from Shell came to visit my farm in Bundu Tuhan for an inspection as I had signed up to be part of the LiveWIRE programme, they saw that I also had several pots of herbs,” she said in a recent interview.
She said they asked why she did not want to cultivate herbs instead as there was high demand in the food and beverage industry and very few people were doing it in Sabah.
Mositol then decided to just give it a try, learning about cultivating herbs through the Internet step by step.
She bought the potted herbs from another farmer in Kundasang, and tried to get more varieties from other sources including supermarkets.
“I started it as a hobby at the end of 2018 and only got serious during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
The temperature and weather in places like Bundu Tuhan and Kundasang are cooler because they are located in the highlands.
Mositol said with effort and focus, she started seeing the potential and monetary returns, prompting curious housewives to enquire and subsequently start planting herbs as well.
They started out with herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano before expanding to edible flowers.
They have fresh as well as dried herbs packed in bottles for sale.
Mositol herself now has over 40 types of herbs and edible flowers planted around her farm, and manages her own processing house.
“I am glad that what I am doing has an economic impact on other women as well, because as we know, the pandemic really hit hard and many are struggling financially,” she said.
She added that with assistance from companies such as Shell, they learned to improve their business and standard of living.
Asked about the challenges faced by herb farmers like herself, Mositol counted the lack of local planters, weather conditions, and information on plant diseases among some of them.
“At the moment, we are faced with a type of plant disease and are trying to find local solutions and formulas to stop its spread, as it can affect the growth and quality of our herbs and edible flowers,” she added.