Sustainable organic farming

The sustainable farming project was started two years ago, when Orangutan Project purchased plots of land alongside the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak. Land close to the Ketapang Orangutan Centre in Kalimantan was also purchased and the development of an organic farm at this location has also begun.

The food consumption of the animals at both of these locations and related financial expenditure led to discussions around what is the most effective way to maintain a nutritiously rich diet for the animals while also being financially sustainable to the organisation. Though rehabilitation is always a goal, the reality for most animals that are rescued or confiscated and sent to these centres is that they will remain captive for the rest of their lives. Therefore, these centres also need to provide a sanctuary setting and ensure that they can financially provide good living standards for very long-lived animals, over the long term. Self-sustainable organic farming was agreed to be best way to achieve a reliable food supply for the duration of the centres and the animals living within them. Moving forward with this option also supports our focus of working with, and having positive impacts on, the local community, as the Sustainable Organic Farming project also has a waste-management and recycling component.

There are three key areas that the farm is focused on:
– Organic and sustainable food production,
– Waste and recycling management (produced by humans and animals) and education,
– Local community awareness, participation and support.
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The ultimate goal for the farm is for it to become a sustainable, community-run source of food for the animals, at the centres we are currently working at initially though with the aim of exporting the model to other orangutan rehabilitation centres and animal sanctuaries. An additional goal is for the farms to provide a surplus of fruits to sell at market. In achieving these outcomes, the project will financially cover its own costs and operate as a wholesome and truly sustainable means of providing food for rescued wildlife, while also addressing waste and recycling within local communities and at the centres themselves.

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The last two years has seen significant progress on the farms at Matang Wildlife Centre and Ketapang Orangutan Centre. It became apparent within the first year that the soil quality was low, which is often an issue at areas where land has been deforested and therefore become degraded. The nutritional composition of the soil of rainforests is very dependent on the forests themselves, and organic matter that is continuously decomposing on the forest floor. It was in seeking a solution to this issue that led to the development of the composting initiative, and certainly community recycling and compost-creation has wide reaching implications for reforestation projects across deforested land. Orangutan Project currently employs one local woman to maintain the farm at Matang Wildlife Centre; the farm at Ketapang is currently managed by Orangutan Project volunteers. The volunteers assist in composting management, additional maintenance, weeding and harvesting.

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Through our composting initiative we are also working with the local community to promote recycling of their organic produce and waste materials, and we see employing people from the community as integral to this goal. Waste products from the animals that are resident at the centre are also collected for the compost, which again supports the cycle of sustainability. This collection of waste, from both the local human population and resident animals, has an immediate and direct benefit to the environment, as most waste products from the communities and animal centres are simply flushed into rivers.

This is an idea we hope to develop at all orangutan rehabilitation centres. Not only will the benefits be nutritional and environmental, but by being able to be our own main food supply source, we will be able to allocate more funding to other priorities – as will other groups that adopt this as a solution to their food requirements.

Ali Ting San, hanging

Ultimately, the benefits of this project go directly to the wildlife and local communities in which the farms are based. Sustainable Organic Farming protects the environment, local health and communities and animal welfare. Some of the benefits will be seen in years to come, some of the benefits are immediate. To help understand what some of the outcomes and their positive impacts of the project are, we have broken these into four categories below.

Nutritional benefits for the animals: Growing produce ourselves means we have control of what goes into the soil, are able to monitor the nutrient levels and therefore ensure a nutritious and delicious fruit for consumption. Having monitored, tested and controlled soils allows the fruits to develop to the fullest potential and therefore contain the healthiest and most nourishing nutrients for the animals. There are no pesticides used on the farm; fruits and plants are chemical free and there is no processing of the fruits involved. They are picked, weighed, cleaned and fed to the animals.

Papaya on plant

Environmental benefits: By using sustainable techniques, organic farming avoids using chemical pesticides, synthetic materials and any GM seeds. It also protects the soil, water and other natural resources in the soil by mainting their natural qualities, ensuring a biodiverse environment and a healthy ecosystem. Also, in employing responsible waste management techniques, farmers are protected from hazardous pollutants and other toxins. As the farms are in close proximity to their primary locations, there is also no need for extensive storage and travel, again minimising unnecessary environmental impacts. Utilisation of existing animal and human waste prevents the current practise of washing or throwing this waste into existing rivers and streams, which is also an immediate environmental benefit.

Community benefits: Community involvement is essential to the success of our farms. Along with employment, the benefits to the community involve education, growth and in the future, being able to sell the fruits at market. The recycling initiative also allows for effective disposal of a lot of the waste produced by the communities, which is currently either emptied into the river (a water source that humans use) or stored in make-shift landfill sites or rubbish dumps within the communities. Local knowledge of the land, seasons and techniques are key to the successful future of our farms.

Financial benefits: The intention of the farm is to provide a self-sustainable option of providing food, being the beginning and the end of the production cycle. Therefore, any financial benefits (mostly in the form of savings) will be allocated to other projects in the future.

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