One of the many positive aspects of a well-managed volunteering project is the financial contribution that can be made thanks to the money that people pay to participate as a volunteer. As of February 2014, we have spent over $1 million at Matang, where we have been working the longest. Pretty awesome really!
For many years we have been buying food supplies for the animals at the centres where we are based. We have always sourced this locally and have been pleased to offer steady business to the local people growing this food. However, it is not a very sustainable way to operate, and last year we were able to buy some land close by to Matang for the purpose of growing food ourselves. It feels like common sense of course, and something that we should have been doing all along. However, it took time to earn enough money to invest, to form a Malaysian company that would allow us to buy land, and to free up time to research the project and get it off the ground. Though money is in short supply throughout the world of conservation, perhaps the only other commodity in even higher demand is time.

With the land bought, it was then the challenge to turn it into a fruit and vegetable farm – not something any of us had done before. The initial toiling on the land to clear it and dig it into some semblance of order ready for planting was hard going to say the least. We need to give huge thanks to incredibly hard working groups of students that volunteered with us last year from Outlook Expeditions, and an unbelievably enthusiastic group of students from Durham university who really pushed this initial stage forward.
This year, with the oversight of a horticulturalist that joined our team, we have been able to organise one small area into a plot of land that is obviously growing fruiting trees! Well, we say ‘obviously’, but that did not stop one volunteer last month cutting down three of the most glorious papaya plants on the plot when he was assigned browse collection. This is one of the potential perils of a volunteer program. We have papayas – many still standing thankfully – pineapples, bananas and sweet corn planted. Baby papayas and pineapples are slowly maturing, and the monkeys of Matang have enjoyed some home grown bananas already.

We are determined for our farm to remain organic. Though the local people keep recommending a whole host of chemicals for keeping the weeds and grasses at bay, we shall continue to rely on the brute force of the volunteers to keep it under control. Western sweat beats chemicals any day. The animals are also lending a hand to the process, as we are collecting their poo during husbandry each morning and running a compost pile on the farm. The fruit ends up feeding itself, with a little help from the animals – a very wholesome and sustainable process.
We have also invested in some land close to Ketapang Orangutan Centre in Indonesia, and our volunteers and facilitators there are advancing the same project each month. It is definitely a realisable dream to have orangutan centres organically growing all the food they need to keep their animals alive and healthy. This then frees up significant revenue and relieves the stress of needing thousands of dollars each month to simply keep animals fed.

Tending to the farm has become a regular job for our volunteers, both at Matang and Ketapang. Although it is incredibly hard work, it is one of the more exciting projects we have been able to develop at these centres in terms of a sustainable solution to the everyday problem of affording food. Not all volunteers are hugely motivated by the prospect of cutting back weeds that fight back under the sweltering Bornean sun, but we are hugely thankful for all your efforts. Future volunteers for Matang and Ketapang can look forward to many hours of work on these projects, and literally start to see the fruits of your labours.