‘Bring back the vibrancy of our kampung’

Ribed Balang

Ribed Balang

Rice farmer and homestay host, Langit Collective

Langit Collective is a social enterprise that empowers smallholder farmers by buying their rice at fair prices to sell to a bigger market. Now, they offer trips where consumers can learn about the culture behind every grain, and create an additional income stream to farmers. 

“After serving many years in the police force, my husband Liun was transferred to Long Semadoh Naseb for his last posting. This is also his birthplace, so when he retired, it made sense for us to buy a piece of land here to do rice planting. Both of us are from farming families, like most people in Long Semadoh. Liun was a bit of a rebel though – at 18, he ran away from home to pursue his dream of becoming a policeman!

I was very happy to come back to the kampung (village). City life is tough. If you have no money you cannot survive. Here, I only have to buy sugar and salt and go to town once a month for other supplies. I plant what I want to eat and forage for food when I go jalan-jalan ((Bahasa Melayu for walking) in the jungle. There are many types of plants in the forest. 

I was told that some of the herbs that grow wild here are much sought after by top chefs in Kuala Lumpur. That's why I said to my siblings in the city, ‘balik kampung (going home)’. The land here is fertile and bountiful.

In the past, outsiders have approached us to set up a farm and grow vegetables, fruits, and coffee. We did what they asked, but when we brought our produce down to Lawas, there was nobody to help us sell it. Eventually we had to discard the produce. Having learnt our lesson, we decided to plant for our own consumption.

It was the same for rice. We would try to sell our excess rice in Lawas. The price goes up and down depending on the competition. Sometimes, each gantang (equivalent to 3.5kg) only fetched RM17 (US$4), which was barely enough to cover transportation cost. 

And the road to Lawas was teruk (terrible). If it rains, the 4WD vehicle gets stuck in the mud and passengers have to get down and push it. We prefer to save ourselves the grief and feed the excess rice to our chickens and dogs.

We met Gituen, Aco, Bulan and Udan (Lun Bawang names for the Langit founders) in 2015 when they were doing NGO work for the community. From our interaction, I could tell that they are clever and sincere. They don’t just talk or give orders but spend time to understand the community and our challenges. Gituen and Aco even brought their mothers to try their hand at rice farming!

We were the first people who sold rice to Langit. Why not? They gave us a good price and collected the rice from our doorstep. I told other friends who were also looking for buyers for their extra rice. Not everyone is eligible, though, because Langit only wants rice that isn't sprayed (with pesticides).

We did not use ubat (medicine; in this case referring to pesticides)  in the past, but a few years ago, those outsiders who asked us to plant and sell paddy told us that our paddy has a lot of diseases. They also gave us ubat to spray.

Since signing up with Langit, we have stopped spraying our plants. Aco told us the spray is killing ourselves.

The income from the rice sales enables us to buy daily household items like handicrafts, mattresses that we use for the homestay. We have seen the sales go up year on year. This year, the kampung as a whole sold 300 gunnies, up from 100 the previous year.

We like having people around, now that our children have grown up and work elsewhere, though they come back for the holidays. If the rice business takes off and our youths see many people here again, perhaps they will think about staying for the long term.

Read more about Langit Collective

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