Indigenous communities in Malaysia building capacity for resilience through IPAF
The Jakun people is the largest group of the Orang Asli Indigenous Peoples of Malaysia. They have an amazing partnership between people and the forest - looking after it and using only what they need to live. But their traditional livelihoods are at risk. The Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF) funded a project to improve livelihoods by focusing on strengthening their social enterprise, improving access to fair markets, strengthening cultural values, and enriching the diversity of their sustainable agriculture.
The two-year project was approved in 2015 and implemented by the local Foundation for Community Studies and Development (YKPM). The regional implementing partner in Asia and the Pacific, TEBTEBBA Foundation coordinated the IPAF grant and provided support to the local recipient organizations. This project resulted in a diversification of the communities environmental and cultural economic activities. The Jakun Orang Asli community improved their livelihoods and nutrition by introducing sustainable agricultural practices with a focus on indigenous traditional knowledge.
Maintaining the fields
The corn and spinach plants grow in a symbiotic relationship. The corn provides shade and helps retain water for the surrounding plants. The community has many different fields to maintain and harvest.
Knowledge about how to braid baskets and traditional outfits by hand is passed down from generation to generation. The women in the community work together from their homes.
Caring for the plantations and harvest
Youth in the community are also involved in the family farming activities. Community members check the health of the plants and signs of disease or pests before the harvest. Tropical regions are especially affected by climate change and plants can suffer badly. Shocks and seasonal changes may destroy the harvests even when native plants are used.
Secure access to nutritious food
Farmers and their families are consuming twice as many vegetables as they were before as a result of growing their own food. Thanks to the project they now enjoy a greater variety and improved levels of nutrition. Fish constitutes an important source of nutrients and complements the vegetable rich diet. For indigenous communities, fish is often of critical importance. In fact, fish provides more than just vital proteins and nutrients – it also contributes to ceremonial traditions and embodies a symbolic tie between the community and the environment.
Improving the soil with compost
Making their own compost has contributed to soil improvement and improved growth in the fields. In plantations of this size the constant supply of improved soil is necessary, but not always easy to source, so making their own has had a huge impact.
Access to fair markets
Vegetables produced by the community are sold in Jaya Grocer, a premium supermarket chain located in a nearby city and in other parts of Kuala Lumpur. The organic products are transported by community members to the supermarket, where they can describe their products to customers. Sales have been successful for the community – some have doubled and even quadrupled their incomes.
Income from collective farming
Earnings from the sales are divided between all the farmers. This not only brings the income to the community, it also provides the chance for the community association to strengthen its administration and management. Setting up bank accounts, governance and management systems strengthen the organisational ability of the community to better navigate the modern world.
The community culture of sharing is derived from the worldview that there is enough in the forest for everyone's needs. Unfortunately, modernisation has had negative impact on the culture of sharing and cooperation. The farm social enterprise ploughs some of the profits back into the whole community to strengthen the values of their rich and equitable culture.