LEE KOK LEONG
A Plea to Address the Plight of Landless Farmers
Lee Kong Leong worked as an engineer for over 2 decades. Then he decided to switch his career to something life-enhancing and duly found his calling in farming.
“I was determined that if at all I wanted to do farming, it should be without the intrusion of agrochemicals,” recalled Lee. In 2008, Lee approached the Agriculture Department of Penang to find out more about natural farming. The officers there introduced him to Korean natural farming methods.
By reading through the Korean methods and, along with guidance from its proponents, he learned to make natural growth promoters such as fish amino acid (FAA) and fermented plant juice (FPJ).
Kangkung is used in the preparation of the FPJ to inoculate the fast-growing traits of kangkung into other plants. To cut expenses, Lee modified the preparation by adding locally available plants.
Lee started planting in a small plot allocated by the Agriculture Department at Relau, Penang. “For the first 3 months, I found it easy-going. I planted vegetables such as bayam and sawi. With the spraying of FPJ, the plants were green and lush, and it really boosted my confidence.
“During the second planting season, some of the seeds I sowed didn’t rise as expected, and upon inspection, I found out that hordes of ants were carrying away the seeds. It was a revelation to me that creatures in nature also struggle to make a living.
“Even the plants that survived did not come up as healthy as the first time. That was another lesson for me. When you keep planting on the same plot, the soil is depleted of its nutrients and this stunts the growth of the plants.
“This understanding took me to the next stage to preparing indigenous microorganisms with goat dung to replenish the soil,” says Lee.
With each problem encountered, Lee sought his own solutions by referring to natural farming methods. That way, he had moulded himself into a learned farmer.
At present, Lee sells his organic products, such as corn, sawi, sawi HK, kailan, lettuce and cabbage to the nearby organic shop, vegetarian food outlets, and directly to the customer.
“It is all a matter of developing trust. I will invite the outlet owner to personally inspect my organic farm. Once they are convinced, you will have a permanent buyer for your product,” said Lee.
Occasionally, he also plants rock melon and watermelon, which he says need more care. The farm products are delivered weekly based on the available harvest.
Lee shared many misconceptions that had sprouted along with the growth and popularity of natural farming. “The authorities that promote agro-tourism exhibit farming plots with their prim, proper, and beautiful gardens. Their farming plot is actually tended by a wide range of people. Those used to visiting these kinds of farms come with a preconceived notion and they comment on the “untidiness” of my farm when they make a visit.
“Natural farming is not about maintaining orderliness. You grow one thing, and along with the growth of what you intended, the soil takes the liberty to relish what is inherent within it, and with our worldly eye, we view it as weeds. So, there is a lot of unlearning that needs to be done when it comes to natural farming,” explained Lee.
“Many organic farmers fix netting for their plants. It surprises me that they have the notion that if you don’t fix crop netting, you are not an organic farmer. I noticed that when spraying pest repellents, the pests when trying to escape, are trapped in the netting and eventually come back to the same plants.”
Lee pointed out how the seeds are so tainted to the extent that it is becoming increasingly difficult to procure pure organic seeds. Lee stressed that he does not support the use of genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds and avoids them at all costs.
“Even with all the in-depth knowledge of natural farming and the produce being abundant, you are not considered a successful farmer without mastering the techniques of marketing. Whatever your product, in the end, you want it to be bought by someone. That is how you sustain yourself,” stressed Lee.
Lee admits that, as he does not own land, the gnawing feeling of uncertainty is always there. Last year, Lee was asked to move to a new plot in the same area, which meant he had to reconstruct the land, including fortifying the soil again with vital nutrients.
Lee’s farm was certified organic by the Department of Agriculture, Malaysia. To receive the certificate, Lee had been subjected to a load of procedures, which he had painstakingly gone through before receiving one.
However, since he has been relocated to a new place, he has to apply again for the organic certification, which means repeating the soil testing and application processes. These are unnerving experiences for farmers who have been sincerely toiling to provide organic food for consumers.
“Conversation with the farming fraternity reveals that many organic farmers go through the same plight. The escalating price of land is a major hindrance as well. Despite having in-depth knowledge of natural farming, many farmers could not prosper solely because they did not own land.
“It is high time the government drew up plans and strategies to encourage organic farmers to farm without fear that the land they have toiled on all this while will be wrested away from them. Providing land, specifically for organic farmers under more promising conditions, will encourage more people to opt for chemical-free farming,” summed up Lee.