HARVEST OF HEALTH
By Joanna Lee
An experienced Malaysian agricultural scientist and his family are training communities on natural farming methods that reflect God’s goodness, emphasising the importance of being God’s stewards of His land.
“God is the first Gardener. He is the creator of every system and process of plant growth,” said Errol Perera, a humble, fatherly agriculturist who is much sought after for his keen knowledge and expertise in setting up organic farming systems.
Errol has advised governments in several Asian countries on sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and animal husbandry methods. In Malaysia, his family – comprising his wife Tina and daughters Melinda and Caroline – are assisting several private farms and land owners on their organic farm projects. They’ve also collaborated with Food for the Hungry International’s Asian branch in Sabah, among many other initiatives.
About 30 years ago, Errol and his group of scientist friends, including some who had practised traditional methods of natural living, decided that the modern way of agriculture was wrong. They then began to develop sustainable, natural and organic ways to do agriculture. Even as they were learning to do this, Errol felt they were merely stewards.
“These organic methods are all ordained by God. We’re just here to understand them and use them in an organised manner,” said Errol, who has a background in biochemistry and microbiology. “We’re here to develop the land and teach others to be good stewards also.”
Spreading organic cheer
Errol and his daughters develop systems along with farmers. They also help choose and train people to operate the farms according to the strict conditions and principles they’ve laid down. The aim, he said, is to equip the people to be self-reliant.
“Nature demands that certain places are suitable for growing certain crops, so that law has to be followed,” Errol said. Modern farms usually thrive on one main crop, which isn’t healthy for the soil. Natural farming requires diversity in flora and fauna that exist best side by side.
Through organic farming, the Perera family has had the privilege of assisting not only Christians but other communities too, especially the needy ones. They’ve supported single mothers and helped a Pahang orphanage to start their own farm, equipping the children with valuable natural farming skills for their future. “We also had a request from the OKU (Orang Kurang Upaya – the handicapped) to develop organic farming systems. Even they want to take part in this,” Errol enthused.
Another group they’re helping to train are pastors. With rising living costs and shrinking church incomes, this is one way to help pastors cope. “It’s to give them a means of income while improving their environment.”
“Besides teaching people how to do farming, we also want to ensure the project is commercially viable,” Errol said, explaining how each community has to develop its SOP (standard operating procedure), processing, sales and marketing skills – all done according to God’s principles in the Word.
A calling to plant and harvest
Errol sees his family’s mission in natural farming as a calling that continues what his Anglican great-grandfather, Rev. William Howell, began more than a century ago in Sarawak to reach out to the natives of the land.
It is also a calling that has led his family to many countries across Asia, including Sri Lanka during its three-year civil war in the early 2000s to advise its government on agriculture. “During that period, God sustained us and supported us. That really strengthened our family bond,” he said. They returned to Malaysia just a few days before the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Then, they ventured to Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries before coming home to Malaysia.
“Organic agriculture is probably the easiest way I know to show people the power of God, who has created the entire earth,” Errol said.
“When you are around here (in a mall), everything you see is man-made. But when you go into a farm, everything around you is God-made,” Errol smiled, explaining how everything relies on God’s providence in the farms.
Farming for today and tomorrow
Besides being a natural platform to glorify God, farming can prevent Malaysians from over-relying on food imports. “We should take farming seriously not only because the Bible says so (Gen. 1:29 and 9:3) but also because our country seriously needs our help to develop our food resources,” Errol said.
Malaysia’s food import in 2015 was RM45.4 billion, almost triple of 2013’s RM13 billion bill.
There’s a massive need for food production in Malaysia, he said, adding that the average age of farmers now stand at 60. He also believes that the Orang Asli communities in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia can greatly contribute to this cause with their native land.
It’s also an open industry secret that many conventional farmers do not eat from their own crops. In contrast, workers on organic farms know that plant extracts and essential oils used as natural pesticides are safe and can even be eaten!
Errol reiterated, “We’re not saying get rid of all chemicals. It’s not realistic. But if we look at what God has given us naturally, we’ll be amazed.”
Calling for youths in farms
Caroline and Melinda, science graduates in their early 30s, oversee their farm in Bentong, Pahang, and are used to farming rigours. “We don’t have many peers doing this, not even in church,” Caroline said, laughing at their unconventional career choice.
Errol said there should be a call for youths to go into farming. Parents too would have to change their mindsets about farming work as a career. Looking at Caroline and Melinda’s robust countenance and joy, one can sense hope for youths going into farming.
“It’s not a glamorous life, but it’s a fulfilling job,” Melinda said.
A mother’s prayers answered
Tina admitted it was not easy to see her daughters work in the farm under the hot sun. Yet, she feels God has answered her prayers for them to continue their great-great-grandfather’s legacy to the next generation.
She has also seen God’s favour on their lives, one of which is the family’s good health from planting and eating organic food. Eating a variety of food is also great for health because each season, they harvest different vegetables grown rotationally.
“People think organic food is expensive,” Caroline said.
“But with economies of scale, it’s not more expensive. When we sold our produce at lower prices, people asked if it’s really organic,” Errol laughed.
Besides packing the vegetables, Tina and the girls also educate customers on each vegetable’s nutritional benefits and the practice of zero-waste concept.
Spurred by gratitude
“When the people we’ve been training get their first harvest, the joy on their face makes me realise what God can do and my heart wells up with praise to Him,” Errol said.
He added that seeing so much gratitude is the biggest satisfaction and motivation to quickly go and train another group.
“The new government has given an immediate order to look into our food industry and agriculture. It’s a good time to be involved in this. It’s our duty, and in doing so, we’re really helping ourselves and helping our country,” Errol said. What passion and patriotism!
Interested to get involved or get their organic produce? WhatsApp them at 018-9034787 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asian Beacon: Jul – Sep 2018 (Vol 50 #3, p16-17)