Baram coffee venture gains interest of indigenous community

Desmond Davidson

The indigenous community has expressed interest in planting coffee as part of an agroforestry project started in Baram, Sarawak by conservation organisation SAVE Rivers. – SAVE Rivers’ pic, October 9, 2023.

THE indigenous community has expressed interest in planting coffee as part of an agroforestry project started in Baram, Sarawak by conservation organisation SAVE Rivers.

Agroforestry is a land management system where combinations of trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland.

It was introduced at the beginning of the year to the Kenyah, Kayan, and Penan tribes in that part of Sarawak as a way to earn more income and enhance their food security.

The project’s co-coordinator, Samban Tugang, said in the Kenyah village of Long Tungan in upper Baram, the number of participants had gone up to 37 from 23 when it first started. 

The project now covers four villages.  

Samban said the villagers of Long Semiyang and Long Moh have shown interest in participating and have even set up their own nurseries.

“We are still collecting names (of those who are interested),” she said.

Samban said it had been an arduous task to reach the Baram community. 

“We visited them almost every month,” she said of her team’s efforts to gain the natives’ trust and convince them of the venture’s viability.

The aim of the project was to get the Baram tribes to grow coffee for consumption and as a cash crop. 

Samban said her organisation had impressed upon the tribes not to use chemical fertilisers in agriculture. 

“We told them that if they want to produce quality coffee – coffee that would fetch better prices – they better not use chemical fertilisers.”

She said teaching the natives how to make organic fertiliser would be the next step.

Two pioneer villages are expected to harvest their crops at year’s end or in early 2025. 

“It takes three to four years before it is ready to be harvested,” Samban said.

“In the meantime, our field assistants will teach them how to prune and maintain their farms,” she added.

“I can say we are right on track for this project. However, our wish is for more villages to participate in this programme.” 

SAVE Rivers is better known for its fight against Sarawak’s plan to construct more mammoth hydroelectric dams.

They had in 2015 halted the construction of the proposed 1,200MW Baram hydroelectric dam.

In November that year, then-chief minister Adenan Satem announced a moratorium on the project, citing opposition from residents. 

With that, SAVE Rivers took the opportunity to venture into agroforestry with the aim of ensuring food security for the tribes living in and around the Baram Peace Park.

SAVE Rivers chairman Peter Kallang described the agroforestry project as a sustainable venture with minimal impact on the environment.

Coffee was picked as the crop to plant as it was fast-growing and profitable.

Kallang said the coffee-growing scheme was eight years in the making with help received from a local coffee planter and an Austrian agroforestry expert. 

The Austrian helped with research while the local planter provided seeds, technical assistance, and marketing.

If the venture is successful, there are plans to follow up with planting vegetables, corn, vanilla, guava, and other quick-growing crops. – October 9, 2023. 

SAVE Rivers has impressed upon the natives not to use chemical fertilisers in order to fetch better prices for their crops. – SAVE Rivers’ pic, October 9, 2023.

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