Bringing together the community and committing them to good ecological practices through a community garden enhances the environment by leaps and bounds and makes the world a better place to dwell in. At the same time, it instils a sense of responsibility and fosters unity and solidarity among the members.

Community gardens in Tanjung Bungah, Penang and Gombak, Selangor, set a perfect example of how others can contribute towards a cleaner and safer environment.


DR KAM SUAN PHENG: Reviving the River and Reconnecting the Residents

Dr Kam, who is also an active member of the Penang Forum, has been vociferous about climate change, river pollution, and hill development and has played a significant role in altering some of the grave conditions in n our environment.

Most of us would joyfully grab it if offered a chance to live in a place surrounded by green hills, meandering rivers, and beautiful gardens. However, that is becoming increasingly impossible in the current Malaysian situation, where nature is continuously divested of its lushness and replaced with a concrete jungle.

To achieve a modicum of what we yearn for, the most we could do is play our role in reviving nature, as exemplified by soil expert and scientist Datin Dr Kam Suan Pheng.

Dr Kam, who is also an active member of the Penang Forum, has been vociferous about climate change, river pollution, and hill development and has played a significant role in altering some of the grave conditions in our environment.

The urban community garden that Dr Kam initiated on a quarter acre of land beside the Sungai Kelian at Jalan Loh Poh Heng, Tanjung Bungah in fact, sprung from her passion for reviving the river. In order to increase public awareness of the importance of the river, in 2019, Dr Kam, together with her team, conducted a study on two river systems in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.

One of the rivers was Sungai Kelian. During the study, the idle land next to the river caught her attention. She did a survey to find out how the residents wanted the land to be used, and the majority decided to create an urban community garden. After going through proper procedures with the JPS and the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), the urban farm was started in April 2021.

From left: Khoo Hooi Lay, Chuah Seong Yuen, Prof. Wazir Jahan Karim, Margaret Boey Yim Kheng, Joyce Nicholas, Teri Geh, Zulfikar Abdul Aziz, and Dr Kam Suan Pheng contribute their time and expertise for the development of the garden.

Bearing in mind the Covid-19 restrictions at that time, a WhatsApp group was set up to explain the purpose of the community garden and encourage residents’ involvement in the garden. “Currently, we have 90 members in the group. Although all of them are not directly involved in farm activities, they do participate in exchanging ideas, seeds and gardening experiences.

“At the initial stage, the residents in the surrounding area joined hands to clear the overgrown bushes and remove buried concrete, with the help of the MBPP. The land was then divided into plots, which were allocated to residents who expressed interest in urban farming. Each plot is to be taken care of by one group,” explained Dr Kam.

Chuah Seong Yuen, with her affiliation to a construction company, and other residents helped by contributing recyclable construction materials such as bricks, wooden pallets, bamboo poles, discarded metal gates, wooden crates and so forth. That way, the garden took form with minimal expense and with the gotong-royong efforts of the members to construct the perimeter fence and perform various maintenance tasks.

Chuah Seong Yuen with the malabar spinach she planted in her garden.

Chuah and other members also bring their children to the garden and introduce them to the plants. “I teach them to differentiate between plants and weeds. Children all day long, poke their heads into gadgets. Plants become alien to them. It is our responsibility to reintroduce our children to nature. I guess this is the first step we need to take if we care about food security.

“Initially, my children rebelled, but as a result of my constant pushing, they gave in. Now they help me with the weeding. I explain to them about pollination and its importance in food production. They feed the fish in the nearby river too,” said Chuah.

Khoo Hooi Lay, a musician by profession, ensures the community garden thrives with her constant care. Almost daily, she will be in the garden tending to the plants and experimenting with the Mediterranean plants she benefited from during her 9-year stay in Germany.

The Mediterranean plants like Mexican oregano, Japanese peppermint, orange mint, Mexican tarragon, rosemary, lemon balm and chives piqued her interest, and owing to the medicinal values of the plants, she tried growing them in the garden.

Dr Kam’s efforts for a clean river and connecting the residents with the greenery are crucial for a stress-free life.

On the other hand, all the local varieties like brinjal and sugar cane grow well in the soil. Khoo has been promoting its medicinal values among family members and friends.

Interested members had attended CAP’s natural farming training and learned methods of caring for the plants, preparing growth promoters and pest repellents to protect and boost the plant’s growth. This enhanced their confidence and made them well-informed gardeners.

Currently, we live a life constricted by concrete walls and almost always travel by car, thereby contributing to the increase in our carbon footprint. “This community garden is part of a plan for a riverine park along a 350-m stretch of the Sungai Kelian, which will provide the connection between two MBPP neighbourhood parks beside the river.


The urban community garden members repurpose discarded containers for planting.
Khoo Hooi Lay with the red long beans she had harvested.

A new walking path constructed by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (JPS) along the opposite bank of the river from the garden is underway. It provides access for residents to walk along the river and connect to the nearby Tanjung Bungah wet market.

Hence, in the future, we could see more people using pathways to walk to the market while simultaneously enjoying the garden, the parks and the river view,” concluded Dr Kam.



Agroecology Fund