February 15, 2019, marked the first Local Farmers, Local Food (LFLF) gathering ever held in Malaysia. This one-of-a-kind event is a gathering of farmers, education professionals, doctors, indigenous peoples, and activists representing eleven of the country’s fourteen states, as well as an international body of volunteers. It was hosted by Sri Lovely, the first and only certified organic rice farm in all of Malaysia, tucked away in the jungle of Kedah, (jelapang padi—Malaysia’s “rice bowl”) and the first Slow Food Community in Malaysia and South East Asia.
Farmers from around the country gathered at Sri Lovely for a four-day conference with the goal of creating a dynamic network of local farmers and others who share common goals, and finding a way to promote them by speaking as one. They are those who have a passion for agriculture and small-scale farming here in Malaysia and abroad. A newly formed movement, LFLF wants to push for new and sustainable policies within the government, as well as share best practices that farmers and activists can take with them back to their own farms, classrooms, and conversations. In order to do this, participants spent a lot of time brainstorming and discussing the concerns and potential solutions that can be achieved by shifting the culture through the pathways of education, policy, and public consciousness raising the importance of the work that they do and doing it in a sustainable way. Slow Food was represented in an official capacity at the event by Elena Aniere, the Slow Food Regional Coordinator for Southeast Asia.
Captain Zakaria Kamantasha—the CEO of Sri Lovely— has a mantra “if you do good, you get good back”. This mentality seeps into his farming practice in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method, a more sustainable way of rice production, and his involvement in starting the first Slow Food Community in Malaysia. Captain is no stranger to inviting people to his farm to train, teach, and discuss. Hosting this event just brought what he was already doing to an official platform and a larger scale. This commitment to “doing good” takes shape in the international community of volunteers he invites to his farm, into his home, and into his family, and who he teaches about rice farming, the environment, Malaysian culture, and more. The volunteers who become a part of the Sri Lovely family learn the true meaning of good, clean and fair food. The combination of these elements has cast Sri Lovely as the perfect space to discuss these topics in a way that is compassionate to farmers, local cultures, and the global good.
The program of the event was long and varied: with activities such as sharing experiences and best practices, rice weeding, an indigenous food display highlighting local foods and their traditional dishes, seed sharing, and focus groups were created to discuss five different topics relevant to the concerns and solutions of this population of participants. The topics in question were Natural Farming, Farmer Social Responsibility, Youth Empowerment, Seed Saving, and Food Security. The focus groups workshopped over the course of 2 days, discussing their concerns about these topics and sharing their ideas for potential solutions. Having thrashed out their ideas, each group had the opportunity to present their topic and receive feedback on their ideas.
All of this group work was done with the intention of creating a Farmers Declaration to be presented to YAB Dato’ Seri Mukhriz Tun Mahathir, the Chief Minister of Kedah, on Sunday, February 17. Indeed the presentation of the declaration was a resounding moment for all involved in the event. By using this community’s collective voice, they were able to come together to create a single document identifying the needs and desires of their community, and using the power of unity to make a statement not only about the importance of natural farming and agriculture, but also to express an expectation that the government take this young movement seriously, listen, and make positive changes in the near future. This group of passionate natural farming advocates are here, they are connected, they have a vision, and they are ready to see movement.
Overall, this maiden gathering of Local Farmers, Local Food was a great success. The event accomplished all of its intended goals wrapped up in a warm, family-like atmosphere. Together, the participants shared stories, laughter, and good, clean, and fair food. The idea was floated (and well received) to make this an annual event, shifting around the country, from state to state. The future vision for the event is to regularly check and update the initial claims and commitments made in the Farmers Declaration, adjusting if need be and holding themselves and each other accountable for sustainable and responsible practices. The event was a beautiful reminder of the power of creating a collective voice and movement, how communities can come together and rely on each other, and the power that a network of passionate and like-minded individuals has to affect real and lasting change locally and worldwide.
Photo Credits: Spencer McIntyre and Jared David Lamont