Sweet success for pineapple farmers in Bario

Dayang with the processed pineapple jam at their processing centre in Bario.

By Nancy Nais

BARIO, Feb 5: “If fear is keeping you from taking your business to the next level, then you are allowing fear to dampen your potential.” These are the words Kelabit entrepreneur Dayang Nalin uses to inspire her as she works on her pineapple farm in Kampung Aru Dalam, Bario.

Soft spoken and down to earth, 56-year-old Dayang spoke fondly of her village, herself and her agriculture business.

Situated deep in the Borneo jungle, Bario is one of the most isolated areas in Sarawak, only accessible by land from Miri via an off-road logging track. The journey takes 12-16 hours or by flight via 19-seater turboprop Twin Otter planes.

The community of about 5,000 people is one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak, with about 1,800 people living in the highland plateau with an altitude approximately 1,000 meters above sea level.

“The locals depend mainly on agriculture, and Bario is most famous for its rice, followed by other renowned local products including salt and pineapple.

“The favorable growing conditions that benefit the Bario rice is also a great blessing for the Bario pineapple, another signature crop from the town,” Dayang said, adding that the pineapples grown here are naturally sweet because they are grown without the use of fertilizers.

Asides from the pleasant taste, the Kelabits in Bario also swear by the health benefits found in their native fruit, which includes curing gastric problems and maintaining youthfulness.

Touring her pineapple farm and jam processing outlet, Dayang is obviously a shining example of an enterprising Kelabit woman who meets her challenges with plenty of cheer.

Together with her in the business were seven other women from three villages, processing their home grown pineapples into jam.

It was in 2015 when Dayang decided to start the pineapple jam project.

“We are thankful for these pineapple as this is our own home product. We are equally thankful of our land because I can honestly tell you that it is very fertile, that we don’t know how to use fertilisers. The pineapples are so sweet and juicy by itself, we don’t need fertilisers. To make them into jam, we don’t use colouring either,” she explained.

With eight acres of pineapple farm near her house, combined with farmland from seven others in her committee, they participated in the community project under the e-Kasih Programme.

The project was set up by the labour department as a one-off project.

Dayang (2nd right) with Fire and Rescue Miri zone and air unit team poses with the Bario pineapple jam.
Dayang (5th left) with Fire and Rescue Miri zone and air unit team poses outside the pineapple processing centre in Bario.

“This is the first in Bario and it is a very challenging processing centre because we face difficulties bringing it out of Bario. We have to send the jam by air to Miri and it is very expensive,” Dayang explained, adding that it has to be flown out via courier.

With support from friends and relatives, they manage to market the pineapple jams in Miri and in Kuala Lumpur.

While the jams are sold in Bario at RM7 per bottle, the price increases to RM10 once it reaches Miri.

In order to help each of them equally, Dayang said the participants will bring in 20 kg of pineapples per day to the processing centre. Once the jam are processed and bottled, they can then sell them.

They can process about 1,000 bottles per month in three productions.

“We are blessed to have this processing centre. With the help of Malaysian Pineapple Industry Board under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, we have become successful with this project. In fact, they will come ever now and then to check, taste and help us promote our Bario pineapple jam, something which we are also very grateful for.”

The team is also looking into processing their pineapple into cordial in the future.

Asked if there are sufficient supplies of pineapples throughout the whole year, Dayang said the agriculture department once suggested that they grow their pineapples in stages.

“By taking the advice, we are assured with sufficient produce and stock. Not only that, whenever our friends or visitors from other parts of Sarawak, Sabah, West Malaysia and overseas come to Bario, I am more than happy to show them our pineapple farm and the processing centre,” she said.

It was never an easy feat from the start, but Dayang was determined to prove that she and her team can be successful small entrepreneurs.

She added that it was very encouraging to see the community here participating in community-based development and rural innovation and entrepreneurship.

If the challenges she and her team are facing can be overcome, many younger highlanders would probably stay back to work and help boost the local economy. — DayakDaily