Meet the Ginger Farmers of Keningau

The fresh ginger of Keningau.

“Ada giok!” (“There are worms!”) exclaimed the women farmers of Kampung Tulid when asked how their recent ginger harvest was.

The crop had shown signs of a fungal infection as it approached the midpoint of the growth cycle. Fanny Londou, 58, Nuniah Janil, 42, Helen Nency Saimin, 33, and Emeliana Garang, 51, all expressed relief that the infection was caught in time to prevent the whole crop from going to waste. As beneficiaries of Women of Will’s Collective Farming Project, the farmers take great pride in maintaining use of organic methods, without resorting to dangerous chemical-based herbicides, pesticides, and fertilisers. Back in December 2015, a team from the women-focused organisation set out on a journey into Sabah’s rural communities. There, they identified an urgent need for a livelihood support programme to improve the socio-economic situation. Kampung Tulid was identified as one of these communities. As a village in Sook, a small transit town between Keningau and Tawau, it was found to be home to many single mothers and widows with little to no source of income.

Today, the women have expressed their hopes of ‘exporting’ the remarkably fragrant and spicy ginger to Kuala Lumpur, with plans to turn their harvest into ginger powder and ginger honey for drinks, as well as ginger bread and biscuits. Logos are even being designed to brand the products. “I believe, if we put in the effort, we will find a way!” beamed Fanny as the others nodded in agreement. “We’re so proud that with just some help, we’re able to group together and cooperate. Now, I can even imagine of having my own farm one day!” Usually, many of these women tap rubber or plant rice while waiting for the ginger to mature. As an alternative, they are now planning to harvest crops with shorter growth cycles, like corn, peanuts, long beans, and lady’s finger, all to be grown in the same plot. Fanny and her friends have also started learning about agroforestry, on how they can plant certain crops under trees in the jungle without having to clear more plots of land by burning or using chemical weed killers. As the Collective Farming Project grows, the women will be able to better their livelihoods and achieve financial independence, making a difference not only for themselves, but for their children and the entire community.