I REFER to the Star2 article “My selfish wish list for Pakatan” (Sunday Star, June 17) in which the writer, Andrew Sia, wrote that one of his selfish desires is to get our Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub to consider supporting organic farming.
I would like to reassure the writer that his desire is not at all selfish but something that our new Malaysia needs to consider and take up.
Prior to retiring, I worked in Alor Setar at the Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital for seven months. At that time, I stayed in government quarters with padi fields nearby. Soon after the planting season, we were surrounded by serene green fields and when harvesting period approached, the view was a sea of golden yellow.
But danger lurked in the rice fields of Kedah despite the beautiful landscape. The diabetes rate in Kedah is 25% while the national rate is 18% (National Health Morbidity Survey 2016).
One might wonder what the diabetes rate has got to do with the rice bowl of Malaysia. Well, padi farming here involves extensive use of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. One of the key ingredients in herbicides is glyphosate, which is known to cause endocrine disorders such as diabetes, kidney disease, obesity and cancer.
Spraying of herbicides is rampant in the padi fields, which means there is a huge amount of glyphosate left in the soil, water and air. I believe this is the main reason for the unusually high diabetes rate in Kedah.
I was able to visit the first organic rice farm in Malaysia while I was in Kedah. Run by retired army personnel Captain (Rtd) Zakaria Kamantasha, who is assisted by his friends and neighbours, this 9.464 hectare farm is now in its fifth year and is prospering.
It is internationally recognised and is the only padi-growing programme in Malaysia that has received organic certification. It has also received the gold award at the Marketing Technology Expo (MTE) and International Trade Exchange (ITEX) in Malaysia and iENA (International Trade Fair for Ideas, Invention and New Products) in Germany.
Zakaria has been invited by Brunei, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand to share and develop the organic SRI (System of Rice Intensification) padi-growing system in these countries.
He also went to Sabah where a SRI project was started in Kampung Tambatuon on the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.
Zakaria is also the technical advisor for WWF-Sarawak and was instrumental in setting up the SRI project in Ba’kelalan. His farm in Kedah is now a research area for university and PhD students from all over the world.
I do hope our new Agriculture Minister will look at implementing natural farming in food production. This, after all, was how our ancestors farmed in the past.
In natural farming, especially permaculture, all wastes including leaves, twigs, branches, weeds, rice stalks and animal manure can be composted to fertilise the soil. This involves less usage of chemical fertilisers, which would leave the soil in a more natural condition.
I certainly look forward to seeing our padi fields once again teeming with fish like the sepat, puyu and keli which all but disappeared due to the high presence of chemicals in the water.
The benefits of natural farming are numerous, among them:
> The amount of wet domestic and agricultural wastes for the local council to handle would be reduced as these would be composted and used as natural fertilisers;
> Our waterways and water supply would be less polluted by effluents from farming activities;
> The practice of open burning in padi fields after the harvesting season would be discontinued;
> There would be additional food from harvesting the freshwater fish in the padi fields; and
> Since they are not exposed to the hazards of spraying herbicides, and insecticides, our farmers would be healthier, hence increasing productivity and reducing healthcare costs.
DR ZORINA KHALID
Malaysian Nature Society Negeri Sembilan/Melaka Branch