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Lenggong Permaculture Farmstay: A study in sustainable living, grit and determination

  • Amy Tan and husband Vladislav Kuta were left devastated after their farm in Lenggong was closed following eviction by the state government.

By Mariam Mokhtar

The news last week that Amy Tan, her husband and family, had been evicted from their farmstay in Lenggong, angered many Malaysians.

Hers was not just a story about a plucky young lady who wanted to share with others, her experience about a simple life surrounded by mother nature. It was also a story about bullying by the state, neglect by those in power, the destructive Little Napoleons and the unseen hands of big business.

For those who have had issues with the authorities before, Amy's eviction is an all too common story, where decent, upright citizens are treated shabbily and with little consideration.

Thank goodness for the internet, because with the power of social media, Amy's story was shared by Malaysians and also overseas.

Look beyond the farmstay and you will discover that her story is about perseverance, courage, preserving the natural environment, her confidence and resilience to continue, despite continual stiff resistance from the authorities (and the police) and staying positive.

Amy's jungle farmstay has been featured in a National Geographic documentary, produced in 2016 called, "Living Free with Kimi Werner". Academics and students from both local and international universities, and ordinary people who want to escape the rat race, have stayed with her.

If not for the internet, Amy's plight might not have had the desired outcome. A few days, after her story, Amy is happy to report that the CEO of the Perak State Development Board (PKNP) was alerted to her eviction and has met her, to discuss her proposal. They await the decision of the State Tourism, Arts and Culture Committee chairman Tan Kar Hing, who has yet to evaluate the potential, and prestige, that Amy's project can bring for Perak.

Amy's story started eleven years ago, when both she and her husband, Vladislav Kuta, decided to start a sustainable agriculture project. Their requirements were simple - unspoilt land with a clean water source.

Their application and proposal to PKNP yielded positive results - they could occupy the site of the old Lenggong Tea plantation, which had been a joint venture between the Perak state government and Tate and Lyle, in the 1980s.

Such was the success of the venture, that at its peak, 10 years after it started, Lenggong tea was allegedly the only Malaysian tea to be sold at Harrods, in London.

With success, came greed and arrogance. It was alleged that PKNP terminated the services of the English company. The usual story of mismanagement and pilfered stock followed. Within two years, the tea company went bankrupt.

KL born Amy is a trained accountant, as well as a physical therapist (Rolfing) for people with chronic and acute musculoskeletal pain. She described her sustainable living project as an educational experience where people can learn hands on skills, on true sustainable living.

Medicinal herbs & plants are cultivated for their own consumption. Domesticated animals provide them with manure, and eggs, as well as controlling the vegetative growth surrounding their farmstay. Energy is from solar power. Water is sourced from jungle streams.

She said, "The project is a living experience for people to be immersed in a life surrounded by mother nature, where the fundamental philosophy is that when you live and care for the land, the land cares and gives back to you."

Aware that she lives in an area rich with culture, heritage and natural treasures, her other commitment was to showcase Lenggong to the world.

She said, "I want to highlight the natural beauty and hidden gems in Lenggong because many people are not aware about Lenggong, and especially its UNESCO Heritage site status. "

Newspapers reported that she had not paid the land rent, so Amy clarified that squatters occupied portions of her land, and despite complaining to PKNP, nothing was done to remove the squatters. When she attempted to pay the rent, the money was returned, by PKNP, but no reason was given.

Her complaints about an adjacent timber company practicing monoculture, and encroaching onto their land, also fell on deaf ears. Clearing the area of all vegetation will contaminate river sources, cause landslides, threaten the wild animals which thrive off the land, and harm the rich biodiversity of the area.

Amy was taken to court, but PKNP omitted to inform her of the need for her to appear, so she appealed and won the right to stay, until the latest eviction notice. Previously, PKNP officials rejected her attempts to meet, to present her case, to continue her project.

Rumours started circulating that she was involved in illegal activities and this prompted visits from the police. When they couldn't find anything against her, they started to harass her overseas visitors.

Living with the threat of eviction, has not deterred Amy from continuing. Now that the CEO of PKNP has met Amy and heard her proposal for a larger sustainable living education centre, and a bio-diversity research centre, where local and international researchers can collaborate and educate, hope lies on the horizon.

Schoolchildren love the outdoor activities provided and learn to appreciate and respect the jungle. College students leave with more confidence and realise the importance of team-work. Others simply come to enjoy a stress-free existence.

Amy he said, "My greatest discovery is that I have found a lot of inner strength and resilience. Nature is such an amazing teacher."

Sources:

1. Malay Mail: Perak state government evicts operators of Lenggong farmstay which was featured on National Geographic series
2. Malay Mail: PKNP: Permaculture Farmstay in Lenggong evicted for defaulting on rent
3. Tourism Perak: Lenggong Valley the world heritage site
4. Permaculture Perak: Gratitude Stories: Permaculture Perak
5. Harakah Daily: PAS Perak bongkar tanah di Lenggong diceroboh
6. The Star: Perak exco meeting to discuss eviction of Lenggong farmstay

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)

 

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