Words by Nanna Dybdal
Photos by Hamza Delbar & Nanna Dybdal
Standing at the entrance to the Kivatu Nature Farm (KNF), we were greeted and warmly welcomed by Irene, who at the same time encouraged us to put on mosquito repellent, as the insect is supposedly plentiful within the garden and farm area. As she passed around the bottle of yellow oil, Irene explained how it was made using lemongrass from the farm.
KNF started in 2008, drawing on inspiration from a similar project in Hong Kong, and is located at PACOS Trust headquarters. Their focus is on organic and sustainable procedures and products, which is very visible throughout the farm. KNF employ traditional methods and make the best use of natural resources within the different zones that the farm includes, while also functioning as a training centre for other community farmers. Further, they sell supplies and equipment, thus the place is also used as a trading centre and will even help community farmers to sell their products if they are struggling to. Finally, KNF contribute by imparting the knowledge of herbs, spices and general flora among the children at one of the Community Learning Centres – also located at the headquarters.
In 2015, KNF started cooperating with another non-governmental organisation – Forever Sabah – which called for changes, especially in terms of structure and organising. Thus, it is now a priority to map out the entire farm, tally and note all of the different species and varieties of produce. For now, KNF is in the process of mapping down the herbal garden, whilst assuming to be done with the entire farm in around two years.
The flora here is so rich as Irene guided us through the different zones and described about the plants, herbs and trees encountered on the way, sometimes accompanied by Maria – the proud coordinator of the place – who has been here since the very humble beginnings of KNF; it as almost as if the enthusiasm and encouragement of the two is reflected in the greens.
Not far from the entrance, we were introduced to the ‘bottle garden’ – a very simple, yet brilliant and effective concept. The top bottle is watered and after drawing the needed nutrition out, the water is passed to the next level, until reaching the bottom bottle in which the remaining water will be ready to collect and reuse.
Irene in front of the ‘bottle garden’, here pointing towards the plant that produces an antidote for poison.
Moving towards the compost area, we were walking amidst mulberry trees, bead trees, passion fruit trees, grape trees, salads and much more. Within that compost area, we were familiarised with the African Nightcrawlers – worm-type creatures that feed off shredded paper and like to stay at the top level of the ground, making them ideal for keeping in high beds, where they are transforming the paper into exquisite, soft mulch. Maria mentioned that she started out with five of the crawlers five years ago and now has so many that she can easily spare a set for local farmers wanting to try it out themselves.
The training centre has several stations and uses. One of them is producing mudballs made from clay soil, rice bran and activated EM microbes, that are laid to dry for 3 months after being pressed and shaped. These mudballs can then be used to clear water, and three of them with the size of tennis balls should be able to clear 1 square metre of water. The first floor of the training centre provides housing for volunteers at the farm, who are all welcomed with open arms especially since they began working on mapping out and keeping records, which is labor intensive. Some volunteers stay for a few days, others several months, nevertheless all of them are appreciated and helpful to get the place running.
Besides from the training centre, the sensory garden is particularly one favored by students – especially the school children, as touching, smelling and tasting are part of the experience. We sure gotten to use our senses being introduced to delicious mint, peppermint, curry, basil, coriander leaves and super sweet, all-natural stevia. Another sweet delight of KNF is the honey produced by stingless bees. While drawing out the honey with a pipette, Maria gave us the opportunity to have a taste, at the same time, explaining how its production depends on flowering. With many flowers available she will harvest the honey once a month, while in periods with less flowers it will only be once every third month.
Maria in the company of stingless bees that are making delicious, sweet and organic honey.
These small ecosystems within the larger one are amazing to witness, and as Maria had stated, it is hard work to start out an organic farm and garden as such, and a great portion of patience is much needed – but in the end it is very rewardful and completely worth it.
A mango tree that Maria planted in 2014. Today – 3 years later it is providing her with big sweet mangoes.
Apart from being healthy, environment-friendly, sustainable, educating and much more, I would want to put forward the greatness of being able to dig into everything and even taste and eat directly from the soil and trees, because of the organic nature of the place. Even though I might be influenced by my instantly, really positive feelings towards KNF, I do believe that the taste of the salad leaves, honey and herbs I’d tried, were in fact the very best I’ve ever had. Further, I have no doubt that the pegaga leaves, which can prevent insomnia and have a positive effect on your kidney if taken consistently, will induce me to sleep like a baby tonight.
Nanna is known to love challenges and emerging into new cultures. However, she is also known to have an extreme and irrational fear of snakes and to be happy to have the privilege of withdrawing to a home with no-snake-guarantee included in the facilities. She firmly believes that the antidote for ignorance is travel.