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About 10,000 farmers– independent smallholders – live in Earthworm’s Sabah landscape area, where Zainudy bin Jasman lives. Farmers like him struggle with low crop yield and income.
Zainudy hails from Lahad Datu, Sabah, where he lives with his mother and runs an oil palm farm of 13.96 acres. He is also trying to find alternative income, by rearing goats and planting chilli.
"I started a few years ago with three goats given by a local farmer organisation," Zainudy said. “That's the time Dehya and the Earthworm field team came to my farm and told me how to grow their number by tapping into grants from government agencies." The first suggestion was to build a shed to prevent diseases among his goats and qualify him for grants.
"If I followed the standard requirements at the time, it would have cost me thousands. Instead, I was advised to meet the minimum requirement using what I had. So I went to the forest to look for leftover wood for the shed walls and used bamboo for the floor. I only paid for the roof, which cost me a few hundred Ringgit."
Zainudy then tried to apply for various grants, including to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB).
“After preparing my application and setting up a meeting, MPOB officers came to my farm. A few months later, my application was approved," he said.
As a result, Zainudy received aid worth about $14,700 (RM 58,850) from the MPOB – which included livestock, machinery and medicinal supplies, among other things. In a separate application, he also received aid from the Department of Veterinary Services. With MPOB’s help, he started out with 22 goats and grew his herd to 48 – his highest recorded number. He has since sold many of them and now has about 20 goats for his next batch of sales.
After growing his herd, Zainudy stopped using herbicides in fenced parts of his farm, said Dehya Mahadin, Field Team Lead for Earthworm. “Instead, he allows the goats to graze in a fenced area, using a grass-cutter on weeds that goats don’t eat.”
Zainudy uses goat manure – a by-product of his herd, Effective Microorganisms (EM) and Trichoderma to produce his own organic fertiliser. According to Zainudy, this has reduced his use of synthetic fertilisers by as much as 40% and helped him save some money, Dehya said.
“I am now trying to get help from the veterinary department to increase my production of organic fertiliser. I am also trying to partner with University Malaysia Sabah to test my fertiliser’s effectiveness in the market,” Zainudy said.
Zainudy is also producing his own Effective Micro-organisms (EM) made from red sugar and molasses, something he wishes to sell. He has set up a company called AgrOdeg Resources to market products from his farm. "After formalising my company and doing the paperwork, I received grants from Peladang (a farmer organisation under the Ministry of Agriculture) to grow chilli and rear stingless bees – for which I’ve received 32 hives," he said.
"I am now trying to get help from the veterinary department to increase my organic fertiliser production. I am also trying to partner with University Malaysia Sabah to test my fertiliser's effectiveness in the market," Zainudy said.
His venture into stingless bees has given him the ultimate reason to stop using pesticides on most of his farm, Dehya said.
Across 2021 and 2022, Dehya and the team in Sabah have done hundreds of farm visits, diagnostics trips, and in-person and online training with farmers. Through this, the team has reached out to about 370 farmers from Beluran, Telupid, Kinabatangan, Tongod and Lahad Datu districts, helping them diversify their income, improve farming and sustainability practices, and co-exist with wildlife.
In addition to living and working among farmers every day, Dehya and his team have developed digital ways to organise and disseminate information to farmers. “We formed WhatsApp groups with farmers, government and experts,” Dehya said.
“These tools have become an active platform for farmers to learn from each other and experts.”
"We have also started a formal collaboration with MPOB to scale up our work to more districts in Sabah," Dehya said.
Through this collaboration, smallholders were registered for the MSPO certification process, while the field team was given access to new villages and farmers. With MPOB officers, the field team is also organising training sessions on Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification (MSPO) standards, farm management and income diversification opportunities Dehya and his team also helped farmers like Zainudy connect with experts, farmer organisations, market actors, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) like Seratu Atai, the Sabah Wildlife Department and other government agencies.
"Farmers are important to the economy, so it is up to us to work hard to apply for the help out there and use it for our farms,” Zainudy said. "I'm thankful for the help I received. I will strive hard to establish myself as an agro-preneur in my community and help others likeI was helped."
This work is part of Earthworm's landscape programme in Sabah, Malaysia; which is supported by ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), Colgate Palmolive, Givaudan, Groupe Rocher, IOI Group, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé and Reckitt. Here, we work in Beluran, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Telupid and Tongod districts to protect forests and wildlife, and improve the lives of farmers, workers and communities.