“AGROECOLOGY FOR ALL: Initiatives in Malaysia” – FARMERS

Cheah Sin Chor (left) with his son. “My only purpose is to conserve the forest tree species for future generations,” says Cheah.

Farming is All about Prospering and Sharing

The verdant forest dotted with a variety of tropical trees at Kampung Mata Air, Pulai Chondong, Machang, Kelantan, stands tall and confident purely for the reason that its proud owner, Cheah Sin Chor, had promised its inhabitants that he would not in any manner intrude into their lives.

“Agriculture is not mere planting, harvesting, and consuming endlessly. It is all about prospering and sharing. So, on this 0.7-acre plot, I decided to let the timber trees grow and prosper at their own pace,” said Cheah.

Cheah Chong Yung is determined to follow in his father’s footstep.

With such an inspiring introduction, Cheah led a group of us from the Consumers Association of Penang on a short expedition into the forest, to experience and understand its eternal existence.

The constant screeching of insects signalled a teeming forest and, enticed us even more to explore its lushness. Cheah’s forestland is an abode of all kinds of living creatures, ranging from the smallest microorganisms to mammoth wild boars.

However, traversing the dim forest proved to be exciting and exacting simultaneously. By the end of our brief forest encounter, all of us had a smudge of blood on our socks and pants. It was as though the leeches sought vengeance for all the neglect and abuse we humans had inflicted on their habitat.

A 200-year-old ancestral home preserved until today proves Cheah’s respect for his ancestors. The same respect that Cheah manifested in conserving nature and diversity.

Cheah, who started his life journey as a mechanic with a prestigious company, resigned, as he could not tolerate malpractice. From that point on, he decided to cultivate the land he had inherited from his ancestors.

“I started planting lemongrass and bananas and worked really hard. Those days, I used to rise at 4 a.m., harvest the lemongrass and other vegetables and send them to the market.

“When I started planting, just like other farmers, I used an array of agrochemicals, hoping they would create a miracle in multiplying the farm’s produce. Later on, I was in anguish upon realising the extent of the damage the agrochemicals had done to my land.

“The duku, a native plant that grows lush in Malaysian soil, failed me miserably. The leaves turned brownish. Only later did I learn the duku trees were suffering in the soil that was parched because of the agrochemicals.

Valuing nature – details of all trees planted in the orchard and information about type of wood are stored in this old shed.

“The microorganisms and all the other vital nutrients in the soil were completely wiped out. I applied sugarcane husk to redeem the soil’s health and temperature. From that point on, agrochemicals were taboo on my farm.

“From the day I started farming in 1986 until 1997, I did not go anywhere. My life revolved around my farm. I toiled for 10 years and had a challenging time experimenting with chemical-free farming methods while at the same time facing disapproval from relatives and friends for landing in a sector that had ‘no future’,” recalled Cheah.

Another 3.5 acres of his land are meant for human consumption, planted with durian, duku, banana and pineapple. All these fruits had their distinct original flavour and taste, which were retained, all because there was no intrusion of agrochemicals into any stage of their cultivation.

Cheah said the price of the farm product is, to a great extent, influenced by the middleman.

“The authenticity of the products that come with organic labels is still a question mark. When a farm product displayed on supermarket shelves does not sell well, the manufacturer changes its label to give it a new look, when, actually the product came from the same source.

“That is how consumers are manipulated into believing that they are consuming safe food.

“Going through a middleman to market the farmer’s product is always costly. So, I directly deal with the market to sell my produce, which means consumers are able to enjoy quality farm produce at a lower price,” explained Cheah.

Currently, his farm’s produce reaches organic outlets as far as Penang.

14 VARIETIES OF BANANAS. “Celebrate life with diversity,” says Cheah. He grows 14 varieties of bananas. Their names are as follows: kelat jamin, kelat legor, rastali, mas, galor, raja darat, raja hijau, kapas, nangka, gasor, batu bulat, batu kepek, berangan and kagang. Bananas are nutrient dense and can be eaten conveniently anywhere. It is very crucial to preserve the traditional variety.

Customer Support Agriculture (CSA)

Cheah strongly advocates customer support agriculture (CSA).With conventional farming methods that promote intensive monocropping, consumers are accustomed to buying and consuming a few popular vegetables only.

Consumers and restaurateurs should change their mindset and buy whatever farm produce is cultivated in one season. This way, it provides freedom for farmers to practise multi-cropping and crop rotation, and in the process, replenish their soil.

Consumers, too, could break free from the current pattern of consuming the same variety of vegetables, enjoy and contribute to diversity, and, above all, improve their health as a result of a healthy eating pattern.

“Forests and farms vibrate with life and are filled with inexplicable positive energy that appeases you no matter how stressful your day is. So it is the life to be experienced by all of us,” asserted Cheah.

Determined to Follow in His Father’s Footstep

Cheah’s vegetables are mainly for local consumption. The rest he sends to organic shops.

Cheah’s son, Cheah Chong Yung, has been supportive of his father’s agroecological enterprises. Traveling together with his father in all stages of endeavours, struggles, and accomplishments, he learned the ins and outs of farming and displayed a mature disposition on account of the good farming practices that had required continuous contemplation.

He is now developing plans and strategies to carry on his father’s agricultural tradition in a more state-of-the-art manner, while retaining the sacredness of the profession that his father had propagated throughout his life.

Agroecology Fund