Bringing smiles back to farmers’ faces

Daniel Lim

Mass gathering hotspots across the world have been mandated to close as part of the efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19, and among them are farmers’ markets where people congregate for the buying and selling of fresh local produce.

While such closure is necessary in the coronavirus fight, it does not bode well for farmers. In Belait and Tutong Districts, the measure has negatively impacted the sales of local produce, and effectively the livelihoods of these farm producers.

To help alleviate the hardship faced by local farmers, Ghanim International Corporation joined forces with the Ministry of Finance and Economy (MoFE) recently to launch the ‘Buy Local Produce’ campaign.

Held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Pasarneka Seria and Tutong markets, the initiative provides a platform for farmers to pool together their produce to be sold at local supermarkets.

Ghanim International Corporation Chief Executive Officer Dr Nur Rahman told the Bulletin that the campaign, which kick-started on April 16, offers the much-needed support for local food producers during these turbulent times.

An employee stocks up the shelf with local produce at a supermarket. PHOTOS: DANIEL LIM
Locally harvested watermelons being offloaded at Pasarneka Seria

“Twice a week, local farmers drop off their produce, which are then distributed to supermarkets in Seria and Tutong,” he said.

At present, 54 farmers have registered for the initiative, either through the list provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) and the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) or directly.

Dr Nur Rahman said, “Once we have received details from the farmer, we find a retailer that is interested in buying the produce, subjected to market demand.”

For produce that has not been picked up by retailers, he added, will be transported to the Brunei Halal store at the MoFE, where they are put up for sale.

He also said given the uncertainties surrounding the outbreak, the initiative will be carried out for as long as it is required to protect the livelihoods of local farm producers

“We believe that the campaign is a boon to local farm producers, especially in these trying times,” he said. “We will continue with the initiative until the reopening of the markets while sourcing alternative platforms on which the vendors could sell their produce.”

Among the alternative avenue streams include e-commerce and outlets similar to Brunei Halal store, he added.

Richard Lim of Lim Hak Hum Farm in Kampong Sungai Liang admitted that the coronavirus outbreak has been particularly devastating to his livelihood.

“It has affected our income because the price of fresh produce has been taking a nosedive,” said Lim, who has been a farmer for more than 40 years.

“Coupled with market closure, we hardly make any money these days,” he added.

He said the profit made since the outbreak began is only enough to cover the labour cost.

Nonetheless, he said, “we are very thankful for the campaign because at the end of the day, we are able to sell our produce through the connection to local retailers”.

He also proposed the campaign be held more than twice a week.

“We are not able to sell all our produce in two days,” he said. “It might be more beneficial to add another two days to the campaign to ensure that the supermarkets get freshly harvested produce.”