Saturday, October 17, 2009

Holistic Farming

Monday, 27 July 2009
Written by Jacqueline Toyad & Elaine Lau

Yahqappu found meaning for his life through organic farming. He was on a search for the meaning of life when he finally found his calling. Taking up farming was a vocation for Yahqappu who previously was an ordained minister with the Ministry of Christ church and after that, a restaurateur.

“It is people who give meaning to life and that is why I decided to find something to do that was at the base of the social strata. That’s why I got into the restaurant business, but that’s when I discovered it was not low enough,” he says.

Putting up the restaurant for lease after six years of operations, Yahqappu went to India for six months, spending time in the Catholic ashrams to “understand more about life and where I should be heading to”.

He found it at an ashram in Bangalore where the ashram had its own organic farm. Inspired, he returned to Malaysia and found himself a plot in Batu Arang, Selangor, a lowland plot measuring 1.5 acres. This was six years ago — and he plunged himself right into the deep end, reading books and stuff off the Internet to learn how to establish his own farm.

Right now, his biggest concern is a jasmine plantation nearby. He had initially thought that being close to a flower plantation would help him as the birds and bees it draws would contribute to the biodynamics of his farm. He was mistaken.

“I thought the neighbouring jasmine farm would help, pollination and all that. When I could smell the pesticides, I wasn’t happy at all. I never used to smell it so much but I think they’re using a more potent pesticide now,” says Yahqappu. According to him, pests are virile and can mutate and build immunity towards the chemicals, so he surmises that that’s why his neighbour has resorted to stronger formulas. “I’ve gone over to my neighbour’s to look at their pesticides. It smells awful, very pungent. I noticed that quite a few were brought in from Thailand, illegally.”

What’s happened is the pesticides have contaminated Yahqappu’s chillis which are grown closest to the neighbour’s property. Yahqappu says he never thought their spraying would have an effect as he has grown banana trees as a buffer zone and there is a road that divides the two properties.

There are a few organic farmers in Malaysia suffering the same plight as Yahqappu. Our country has yet to impose strict integrated pest management standards on conventional farms, leaving the farmers the freedom to be trigger happy with their pesticide spraying. That’s why organic certification bodies impose strict criteria when it comes to buffer zones, especially if an organic property is in close proximity to a sprayed farm. Requirements are based on height of vegetation and predominating wind direction and spraying intensity. Width of buffer zone can range from a mere 2m, based on the requirements, to 100m. Organic farmers also have to take into account boundaries to prevent rainwater flowing from conventional fields into their fields.

“We try to do our best,” says Yahqappu. “We have our buffer zone. We don’t take water from the river which has been contaminated. I’ve dug my own well because I don’t know the source of the river but I know it runs through an oil palm plantation and there is usage of pesticides there. So, I’m trying to keep away the pesticides but if it is still like that, I will have to think up better ways to manage… maybe put up a bigger fence, plant bigger trees, things like that.”

This article appeared in Options, the lifestyle pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 765, July 27-Aug 2, 2009

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