The COVID-19 global crisis is forcing us to slow down and reflect on the things we took for granted. Many of us are rekindling our appreciation of something so basic in our daily lives that we often disregard it – food.
Sustaining access to safe and healthy food is and will continue to be essential during the pandemic, particularly for the poor and vulnerable communities. They are hit the hardest by the outbreak. It is more important than ever to support our farmers (and others throughout the food system) who are making sure that food makes its way from seed to shelf even amid disruptions.
This brings me back to the time we journeyed to Lembah Hijau 2 Village in Ketapang, West Kalimantan for five days for the Extraordinary Everyday campaign. The campaign tells the stories of the people behind palm oil, the makers of our sustainable future. These people are an important part of delivering the extraordinary change our company, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) is undertaking. We strive to innovate and implement more sustainable practices in our operations every day from the way we manage our plantations to how we formulate products to improve nutrition and food safety. One particular person I took a keen interest in during the production of the campaign was Pak Yatimin.
Pak Yatimin has been farming the same land his entire life. This land has, directly and indirectly, fed his family and community for decades. He has a big responsibility to care for it and to ensure that the crops his land produces are safe and healthy for consumption. It is not an easy task because the village is in the middle of a forest, and there are many pests and diseases that can kill crops and destroy the gardens.
It is also widely known that fires are often used to clear land for agriculture. Villagers do so because they are heavily dependent on farming the land for survival. They are unaware of or have no access to alternative methods to open up land for farming.
GAR’s Alternative Livelihood Programme encourages communities to move away from using fire and strong chemical fertilisers by offering farmers like Pak Yatimin, sustainable methods of land preparation and cultivation. The programme runs workshops for villagers on using organic fertiliser to increase soil fertility, improve yields, and grow healthier crops. And to improve self-sufficiency, it also teaches farmers to sell the excess in local markets to generate additional income.
Pak Yatimin shared that he was worried initially. He assumed organic fertiliser would be expensive and hard to maintain if he changed to using it. He was thankful to learn how to make fertiliser at one of the workshops. He took the time to show us how to make it too – a simple mix of organic fertiliser powder with composed leaves, timber, manure, and lime. Although the smell was quite potent, I volunteered to help him pour it on his newly-planted seeds. I hope the crops survived my contribution!
He told us that learning how to grow organically transformed his life. The continuous support and workshops from GAR have improved the way he farmed and fed his family and community. With the extra income from the sales of his produce, he can also support his children and grandchildren, which is one of his proudest achievements. And guess what? When he is not farming, he is teaching other farmers how to fertilise and grow healthier crops. He is indeed a local hero.
Pak Yatimin is like everybody’s favorite grandfather. Wise, loving, and fun, he makes the best of everything. Throughout the time we filmed at his home and village, I could always count on him to inspire us with amazing advice or a song that made our day just a little brighter.
I remembered his answer when I asked if he liked to farm. “I was born to grow. Working with my hands is something I love to do. It is a wonderful gift that I can grow food that is good for health and make money while caring for the environment. A gift I must continue to apply and impart.”
As we think about the importance of food and the privilege of having easy access to it this World Food Day, let’s not forget about those who do not have such privilege. There are people all over the world who are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. It seems crazy that we still live in a world whereby a large portion of the population can indulge in any sort of food they wish easily while others struggle to put food on the table.
Maybe it is time for all of us to be #FoodHeroes – together we can make a difference.
Alternative Livelihood is one of GAR’s many programmes. We run over 60 projects covering issues ranging from community empowerment to peat and forest conservation. We believe partners can help us better implement and scale to reach out to more communities and villages. If you are interested in learning more, investing, or collaborating in these projects or programmes, please visit our Partnership Page.
Learn how GAR tackles the issue of food security in times of a global pandemic here.
Karen Teh is the brand guardian at GAR. She is responsible for brand integrity across all company marketing initiatives and communications. She also manages the production house of the company.