Sarawak Farmer Introduces Regenerative Agriculture to The State

Farmers from a longhouse in Limbang.

UGAK SANGGAU, the founder of a Sarawak based organic fertilizer company SOF wants to make agriculture in Sarawak a factor in fighting climate change.

According to Ugak, it’s a formidable challenge as the main priority for small farmers in the state is making a living profit. In recognizing that fact, he is tackling the challenge by addressing farm profits with environmental benefits as a happy consequence for climate change.

“You cannot tell the small farmer to think about future generations and use environmentally better practices like not polluting the land and water with pesticides and fertilizers. What is more important for the farmer is the future of his family especially his children.”

Ugak Sanggau with a palm tree showing multiple fruit bunches.

A veteran in the oil palm industry, Ugak identified fertilizers as the most effective way to target pollution. He experimented with various means of fertilizing the soil including compost and settled on developing concentrated liquid organic fertilizers.

Using his own oil palm farm as a test plot, his home- made fertilizer increased harvests so much that he decided it should be shared with other farmers.

His initial efforts at sharing the made in Sarawak fertilizer was met with skepticism as farmers questioned whether it would perform the same as imported fertilizers made by big companies. Undaunted, he challenged the skeptics by offering free trials of his liquid organic fertilizer.

Over the last two years, the SOF fertilizer has been tested on crops from chilli and black peppers to pomelo and lime farms in addition to oil palm farms.

The results were so impressive that demand has now grown to a point where Ugak has set up a shop in Miri and engaged salesmen to reach the farming communities in Sarawak.

According to Ugak, it has been a slow and expensive venture for him but he believes the concepts of eco-friendly farming has to be introduced to Sarawak.

“Farming, whether for chili padi or durians or oil palm, has a big impact on Sarawak. Loosely I can say that a hundred thousand families are engaged in farming of some crop. If I use a low estimate of 5 acres per farmer, that is half a million acres of farmlands in Sarawak that could be engaged to fight climate change.

“Most people only look at forests when they talk about climate change but they do not realize that farming is a major contributor to climate change. Scientists have identified the use of nitrogen fertilizers as one of the top contributors to climate change. This is why farmers in North America and Europe are looking for ways to decrease their use of chemical fertilizers.

Ugak Sanggau, in white shirt with friendly farmers.

“In Sarawak, climate change is a non-issue for farmers as we all try desperately to increase our harvests for income today. Better incomes today from our farms means a better future for our children tomorrow so why should we worry about the environment?”

Ugak has however recognized the importance of environmentally friendly farming practices for Sarawak. He pointed out to the chemical pollution in rivers and streams from agriculture which matches the reports of environmental pollution from agriculture in the US and Europe and is convinced that Sarawak can do better than these regions.

The US and Europe are famous for big farms and heavy machines that emit carbon every year when they till the land. The pollution gets worse when nitrogen fertilizers are applied to make sure the depleted soils have enough nutrients for a new harvest.

American scientists specializing in climate change have already pointed the finger at fertilizers as a big contributor to climate change.

The European Union has also recognized the environmental impact of agriculture and plans to introduce new measures like organic farming to reduce the impact of European farmers.

Ugak Sanggau at his farm. Rearing cattle as part of regenerative agriculture.

The government in Canada, which is one of the biggest producers of canola, has recognized these problems for climate change and is looking into engaging Canadian farmers as a solution for global climate change.

According to Ugak, the use of liquid organic fertilizers in Sarawak will contribute to the fight against climate change in many ways.

“If you look at how agriculture in Sarawak has contributed to climate change, the traditional method of burning farm wastes is the most obvious. There is no question that it is a traditional regeneration of the fields and costs the farmers very little but the smoke affects us all.

By converting farm wastes into liquid organic fertilizers, there are emissions of course as the waste materials decay but the end result is a fertilizer that is more efficient than compost and requires less waste to produce.

Ugak further pointed out to air and water pollution from the use of nitrogen fertilizers. Quoting research that identified nitrogen fertilizers as a potent source of emissions and runoffs that is polluting the air and water in America, he was emphatic in saying that his liquid organic fertilizer does not contribute to either forms of pollution.

According to Ugak, it is time that the concept of regenerative agriculture is brought to Sarawak so that local farmers can become a stakeholder to Malaysia’s fight against climate change.