Sunday, May 22, 2022

Floods leave farmers drowning in losses

While many have chalked up losses amounting to hundreds of thousands of ringgit, there are no government provisions providing flood aid for farmers.

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Sitting on a chair at his chilli farm in Kampung Sri Tanjung, Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor gazes out over the rows of plants.

Once, the sight brought joy and satisfaction but now it brings only despair and gloom.

The green plants that flourished in his small farm are now withered and brown, covered in mud from the massive floods that hit several areas in Dengkil two weeks ago.

Two weeks was all it took to completely destroy his crop which had been due for harvest at the end of the month.

Now, Irham can only sit and ponder his losses before heading out to clean up what has been left behind by the receding waters.

Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor pushes a wheelbarrow as he cleans up the mud left behind by the floods which hit his farm two weeks ago.

“I come to the farm every day and I’m at a loss for a moment as I don’t know where to start or what to do first,” he said in an interview with MalaysiaNow. “Everything is still in the cleaning and recovery process.”

But there is only so long that he can remain lost in thought. For now, his focus is on salvaging what he can of the polybags that once held his plants.

Polybags are thin containers made out of plastic which are more breathable than traditional plant pots.

Before the floods, Irham had 2,500 polybags containing a total of 5,000 chilli plants. While some were able to stay put due to the protective nets around them, most were washed away by the strong currents, leaving debris littered about in the mud.

After gathering what he can of the remaining polybags, Irham turns his attention to preserving the coco peat which he hopes to use for the next season. He will need to use 500 sacks of coco peat for the new plants.

“Buying more will cost me a lot of money, so I’m trying to preserve what I have by throwing away the slime that has stuck to the polybags and the top of the coco peat,” he said.

Then, he lays everything out to dry in the sun. If this doesn’t work, he will have no choice but to dip into his savings and start anew.

Mud covers once-thriving chilli plants that would have been ready for harvest soon if the floods had not arrived.

It will be more than a month before he can begin operations again. After that, he estimates that he will need another four months to rebuild his farm and grow his next crop.

Looking at what remains of his ruined plants, he says they could have been saved if they had been waterlogged for just two days. But the heavy rain that came pounding down left his crop underwater for nearly six – far too long for any hope of recovery.

Irham is one of many farmers who were badly hit by the devastating floods which began on Dec 18.

On Dec 31, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said up to RM10,000 would be given to heads of households affected by the floods.

He said compassionate aid of RM1,000 would also be given to affected households while other forms of assistance would be made available including vouchers for electrical appliances and cash aid for essential goods.

Victims whose homes were completely destroyed meanwhile are eligible for assistance of up to RM61,000 while allocations were also made for the repair of private vehicles damaged in the floods.

But no provisions have been made so far for farmers like Irham.

Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor tries to salvage some of the plants that were not washed away by the floods.

Irham said he would need at least RM15,000 as capital to start afresh, for the purchase of fertiliser, seeds and farming equipment.

“For now, I have to use my own savings to cover the losses,” he said. “Luckily I have some. I don’t know what I would do if I had no savings.”

He has also received assistance from friends and others who heard of his experience, while representatives from the Sepang Agriculture Department have visited to help estimate his losses and check the quality of his coco peat.

“I asked if I could get monetary aid for farming, but they said for now there is no agricultural assistance being given to farmers affected by the floods,” he said.

With losses piling up far above his initial calculation of RM100,000, Irham must soldier on by himself.

He had worked hard to build his farm and the little house which had everything a household needs including a washing machine, refrigerator and bed. During the weekends and school holidays, his wife and two children would come and stay with him, and they would enjoy their time together as a family.

Now, though, everything is gone.

Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor wades through stagnant water as he retrieves some of the polybags which floated into a nearby palm oil plantation.

Irham is not even eligible for the government’s cash aid as his home was considered a farm house.

“When I first saw the condition of the farm, I was on the brink of tears,” he said. “But I kept my heart strong. I had a discussion with my wife, and we agreed to take this recovery slowly.”

But financial recovery aside, Irham must also deal with his mental recovery from the floods.

Each time it rains, his heart drops as he fears a second wave of floods which would cause further damage to his small farm.

Several days ago, it rained so heavily that the water in the nearby river began to rise again and Irham had no peace until the downpour ended and the water level receded once more.

“It would crush me if it floods again when I have cleaned everything,” he said.

While Irham was once a photographer, his chilli farm is now his only source of income.

“I have to cover all of the losses by myself,” he said. “I just hope that the government can see our suffering and give farmers affected by the floods the assistance that they need.”

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