We are helping Ricky transform the oil palm plantation on his 7.25 acre family land to a food forest based on permaculture principles. The oil palm monoculture was planted about 20 years ago but has been left fallow since then. No one has been harvesting the fruits. Over time, the understorey has been vegetated naturally and become dense with shrubs and small trees.
Ricky walking in the dense shrubs under mature oil palms
Ricky became interested in permaculture a few years back and we met when I gave a talk on permaculture at a farmers’ market in Johor. We kept in contact but it was only recently that he resolved to turn his dream into reality. He wants a piece of land where his kids can play in nature, instead of spending weekends in a mall. We talked about industrial agriculture, societal issues, environmental destruction, etc, where we shared similar views.
Oil palm monocultures have become the most common landscape in Johor; a drive around here will convince you of that. They have a bad reputation for causing deforestation (by burning or mass clearing), eutrophication of water bodies through use of chemical fertilizers, reduced biodiversity, soil erosion, and other issues. After two cycles of planting, the soil will be completely degraded and the land unproductive. We are reversing the clock – turning an old oil palm plantation back into a polyculture forest using ecological methods. We have not seen any precedents and hope that whatever we learn can be used by many others to heal the land. Continue reading
I read Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway a few months back. I think it’s a good time to give a brief review now that I have given all my learning and thoughts time to settle and synthesize. I don’t have the book beside me for reference and I am only recalling from memory the elements that struck me most.
I found this book in the library after searching for “permaculture” in the catalog. It is probably the most popular permaculture book that has been written in recent years. To be honest, I was quite impressed that the Singapore library actually has books on permaculture considering how alternative it is. There is an element of subversiveness in permaculture, as Bill Mollison said it himself. When he heard a reviewer describe his teachings as seditious, he said:
Yes, it was very perceptive. I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.
Well, it definitely does not look subversive from the cover of the book! Continue reading
When we started work on Project Green Valley, it was but a barren piece of land with grass growing on hard sun-baked clay. I remember wondering where so many fist-sized stones came from. They were actually hardened and dried pieces of clay. The soil was in bad shape and there was a lot for us (and nature) to do before we restore fertility. After about a year, this is how it looks.
A food forest! See if you can spot sweet potatos (green, purple, yellow), kang kong, wild spinach, sweet leaf, papaya, banana, tapioca, bitter gourd, lemongrass, citronella, passion fruit, and more!
The way it is today, Project Green Valley requires almost no watering. Even if we had to water, we would draw from the pond and not rely on tapwater. There is little need for weeding because the soil is densely planted with no area of exposed soil. The strong sunlight grass needs would have been filtered by the other taller plants by the time it reaches the soil. Continue reading
A family friend has asked me to help start an organic farm in the premises of a timber factory in Johor Malaysia. I am calling it Project Nanas because nanas means pineapple in Malay. The location of this factory is at Pekan Nanas which literally means Pineapple Town. This place used to produce the most pineapple throughout Malaysia! Interestingly, many European languages (including German, French, Norwegian, Hungarian, Greek, Finnish, and probably more) call pineapple “ananas”.
The objective of this farm is to provide employees with fresh vegetables and also green up the premises. The factory is currently expanding and constructing a warehouse. A long and narrow strip of land that is sandwiched between this new warehouse and a river is where the farm will be. Continue reading