Getting to know Kelantan through a Rice Farmer's Perspective
We first met Puan Salwati after our delicious dinner in Min House Camp. She came with two other young men to meet our team and Kimberly from e-homemakers to discuss the potential of agrotourism in Kelantan. She seemed to be quite good at rallying the youth to actively contribute to their community as was exemplified by the eagerness in the young men’s faces. It was a brief encounter but she definitely gave a good first impression. She looked much younger than what I had in mind.
We managed to spend more time with Puan Salwati the following day as one of the main agenda was to visit her organic paddy field and learn more about its processes. We were given coordinates for where to meet her, which we used and subsequently got a tiny bit lost. However, with the help of Aby who had been to Puan Salwati’s place before, we eventually managed to get there. It was not long before Puan Salwati emerged in her Kancil.
She encouraged us to call her Kak Ti and to skip the formalities. It just seemed to be natural for her – dressed in her humble track pants, slippers and a hat to protect herself from the heat. A mother of five children, she has been engaged with SRI-Mas in developing her organic rice farming for the past five years.
At her rice field, she shared with us her knowledge of organic rice farming and how simple it can be to go organic. Yes, it may be more labour intensive but when you keep the long term vision in mind, it can really motivate you to go the extra mile. Kak Ti has no problem in keeping that vision.
She proudly brought us to one of her two blue barrels and started to explain the role of snails in a rice field. They would usually eat and destroy young rice plants but Kak Ti would meticulously go through her field and pick out the snails and store them in these blue barrels and they would in turn be her compost. So she takes the pests and makes them into food for her plants – there’s genius in the simplicity of it. She lifted off the cover of the barrel and it smelled absolutely awful. She mixes many different organic materials and let’s it continuously ferment under the hot sun with the aid of brown sugar too. She humorously explained that if humans are repelled by the smell, it’s inevitably good for her plants as it keeps all the pests away too.
We then walked about a hundred meters away to Kak Ti’s second patch of paddy. It was wetter than the previous one and here Kak Ti showed us how to ‘melandak’ (weeding) which is to aerate the soil. Fun fact: landak in Malay is porcupine, and melandak would be porcupine-ing – apt because the tool we used to ‘melandak’ had spikes on it like the back of a porcupine. She handed us the tools and proceeded to hop into her field and demonstrate the process.
The tool itself was quite cool as it was handmade and innovated by the farmers themselves. It was quite heavy but very efficient in getting the job done. Kak Ti mentioned that it usually only takes about 20 minutes for a professional farmer to finish weeding the same area that we worked on – but it took four of us almost an hour to complete the same task under the very very hot sun. It is not an easy job and safe to say, we definitely learnt to appreciate more about the hard work people do just so that we can comfortably get the food on our plates. Rice is hard work.
Around noon, we followed her to a place in Cabang Empat to see bigger fields owned by Pak Azman who was preparing to venture into organic rice farming too. We inspected the area and Kak Ti pointed out to us the stark differences between conventional rice farming and organic rice farming. Not only would you get healthier rice, but the system would also ensure a higher yield boosting the local economy. Kak Ti’s ultimate vision is to provide enough rice so that the local communities would not have to depend on external sources. The food they grow is the food they eat.
As it was getting hot, Kak Ti led us to Pak Azman’s house where we were welcomed by his wife. In typical Kelantanese style, she proceeded to pick a few rambutans and mangosteens from her own trees and served them for us. True hospitality. We spent some time chit chatting before we headed back to Min House Camp where our next activity was waiting for us: collecting lokan!
After collecting more fatigue than lokan, we returned to the boat where Kak Ti was gracefully waiting for us. We then set back to Min House Camp but stopped the boat in the middle of the river to conduct an impromptu interview with Kak Ti on her thoughts about agrotourism.
Overall, our meeting with Kak Ti proved to be inspiring. She opened my mind about what it means to be a strong woman – you don’t have to be wearing nice dresses sat in your luxurious office acting like you rule the world. Kak Ti is a very strong woman, and she does her best at whatever it is she can do. She proudly calls herself an organic rice farmer and an activist – and she has every right to be proud. I can’t wait to see what she does next!