While more and more people in Malaysia are becoming aware of the health benefits of consuming fresh produce which are organically farmed, however one major barrier remains – the high prices that are preventing the majority from buying them.
Nonetheless, the demand for organic food, especially vegetables, continue to grow, and currently, the growing local demand are not met by local organic farmers.
According to Food and Fertilizer Technology Center for Asia Pacific (FFTC-ACP), in 2014 there were only 80 fruit and vegetable farms in Malaysia, with 446 hectares in total. Organic farms have to obtain certification issued by the Malaysian Department of Agriculture that will enable the farmers to market their farm produce as certified organic.
“The vegetable farmers are using more pesticides than chemical fertilizers, and these are the vegetables that are going to the wet markets or supermarkets. While we believe vegetables are healthy, so we give them to our children. This is where my problem comes in,” Iskander (Tim) Cronin explained.
Conventional commercially produce have higher levels of pesticides or are crops based on genetically-modified organisms (GMO). Excessive residue of pesticides found in vegetables is a major health hazard and previously, Penang Health Department had destroyed more than a thousand kilograms of celery from China that had excess pesticide residue.
Halalop editor, Shahfizal Musa, spoke with Iskander (Tim) Cronin who is growing vegetables via organic farming, all grown at low costs. His farm is in Selangor, Malaysia which grows vegetables organically.
Cronin has lived in Malaysia for the past ten years, having married a local Muslimah. He is originally from Ireland and became Muslim soon after living here. He had previously worked in several other countries in South East Asia as a project manager in the construction sector. He is currently focusing on project management in environmental projects and green technology where he is passionate about protecting the environment and making organic food available for all.
“Climate change is a reality. Ten years ago when I first came here, it was warmer, it didn’t have as much rain. Now it’s changing dramatically. “
According to Iskander Cronin, part of regenerative farming involves using food waste as organic fertilizers which is a low-cost solution to grow food organically.
“We could replace chemical fertilizers. Currently, the problem faced by farmers is that they need to use more chemicals, more pesticides to get the results they used to get ten years before. By increasing these chemicals, they’re killing the land.”
“So basically agricultural land needs organic fertilizers. It needs carbon.”
“We want to prove that we can farm sustainably, environmentally-friendly and that it doesn’t cost a lot”.
Organic food prices in Malaysia are very expensive and such are not accessible to the wider domestic consumers. This is partly due to insufficient local supply where organic fruits and vegetables are mainly imported, and local farmers charge higher rates for exclusivity.
“We studied this and found that:
Organic does not need to be expensive.Iskander (Tim) Cronin
Cronin further elaborated that it is easy and low-cost to find food waste. For instance, local supermarkets would throw away vegetables and meat that are past their due dates, and these would be easily turned into organic fertilizers.
“The cost is around one hundred to two hundred Ringgit Malaysia for one tonne of waste. It is cheap because the raw materials are free (food waste), and the only thing you need are a bunker, a decomposer, and some space.”
“You have organic fertilizers, especially if you use the worms to decompose the food waste.”
“If we were going to use chemicals, you’re looking at two to three thousand Ringgit per tonne.”
“We’ve just reduced that down to two hundred Ringgit.”
“We have done the trials. The more organic fertilizers used, the fewer pesticides are needed. Basically, what you’ll have is that, once you build strong roots, they will repel the pests.”
Cronin further explains, “it’s a bit like human beings. If we are ill, we get sick, we get more viruses, and so on whereas if we are healthy, strong, and look after our bodies, we will rarely get sick and if we do get sick, it’s minor.”
“So far, we have trialed ginger, chilies, sweet corn, and beans. We don’t need pesticides or chemical fertilizers.”
Iskander Cronin’s farm in Selangor is approximately 26 acres.
“The farm consists of chicken, fish, and goat as well as vegetables which are integrated farming. The idea behind that is simple: the goat and chicken manure become fertilizers and the waste from our crops will feed the goats and the chickens. “
“We’re also putting in traceability into our products.” He further stated this will be done with blockchain technology to ensure consumers are getting real organic food.
“I’ve done the research for over a year and I found that when you use pesticides, you reduce the nutritional value. If you’re supposed to get a hundred grams of nutrition from vegetables, you may need 200 grams of vegetables to give the equivalent amount of nutrition if pesticides are used in vegetables.”
“If you cook organic vegetables instead of commercial vegetables, you will find the taste to be different and better. ”
Studies have shown that organic fruits and vegetables are healthier for consumers as they provide higher levels of nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and inhibit certain cancer cells from growing.
“This is also an opportunity for me to do something good so that when I die, I leave a legacy, even if it’s only a hundred people. If I have changed their lives for the better, then I have done some good.”
Farah Ishak is a Content Writer at Halalop. She grew up in the United Kingdom where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Management. Later, she completed her MBA and held senior-level positions in Malaysian based MNC. She left the corporate world to be with her young kids. She is passionate about issues concerning Muslim women, Startups and Muslim businesses in general.
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