In 2010, Jackson Ho bought farmland in Bentong, Pahang, with the idea of helping those who were struggling to make ends meet. But like most ideas, he put it on the back burner and forgot about it.
The opportunity to put his idea into practice arose four years ago, when his then driver, Kunasegaran Veloo, wiped out his troubles of having to manage his large family, most of his family, on his own. siblings being involved in drug addiction or gangsterism.
“Even Kuna’s parents died of drug addiction. Families have been trapped in the cycle of poverty for generations. He managed to make ends meet only by borrowing money repeatedly to support not only his siblings but also his wife and children, ”says Ho.
Kuna’s story got him thinking. Realizing that the driver’s monthly salary was insufficient, he reassigned Kuna and taught him how to run a stall in a bazaar run by one of Ho’s businesses in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
However, things did not go as planned. “Looking back, I should have known that the environment was not conducive to someone like Kuna, who is trying to get out of abject poverty. This area (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman) is full of people trapped in similar situations, so it didn’t help, ”Ho said.
“Kuna continued to face financial difficulties and often still needed to borrow money. It was then that I remembered the farmland and said to myself that I could put it to good use. When I suggested it to Kuna, he said he was ready to try farming.
This is how the Bentong Happy Farm and its Better Living program came into being. The hilly area, located along the Titiwangsa Mountains, is devoid of any telecommunication signal and a comfortable distance from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a great place to start over for those willing to work hard, says Ho.
With financial and machinery help and Ho’s support, Kuna got to work and started growing fruits and vegetables such as papayas, chili peppers and cucumbers. “He moved to the farm on his own in 2013, leaving his wife and children for a year. He started with papayas and chili peppers, but they failed. He had some success with cucumbers, but the market failed. However, he never gave up and kept trying to cultivate something else, ”Ho says.
“He tried to cultivate different things, using different methods on different parts of the land. There was no loss because the earth had been inactive for so long. But it was becoming useful. He gradually enjoyed some success and the demand for vegetables and fruits started to increase, which motivated him to grow more good vegetables.
Kuna had to find the best time for each crop. In the end, he succeeded.
“Not only was he able to support his own family, who moved to the working-class quarters of the farm the following year, but he was able to hire laborers and he had enough left to repay the advances I had given him. Ho said. Although the products are sold to customers who visit the farm, most are sold at the Selayang Wholesale Market.
Having gained confidence in himself, Kuna started dabbling in rock melons last year. “Since then, he has moved on to the second and third phases of growing the vegetables he grows. But his latest hit is the Sakata rock melon, which has become a hit, ”says Ho. Sakata is believed to be the world leader in vegetable production.
“We brought customers directly to the farm to support him by hosting a melon rock festival that took place over two weekends. We have also organized activities for visitors. We had over 600 visitors during the period, ”he adds.
Kuna earned almost 30,000 RM after harvesting the rock melon. During this interview, he took his family for their first vacation. “It was a long and tiring trip, so this is a well-deserved vacation,” Ho says.
The biggest challenge for agriculture is not the weather, the soil or the crops, but the market, he says. “There are many challenges to getting a fair price for farmers.”
Following Kuna’s success, Ho recruited Phoon Hong Mun for the Better Living program last year. Like Kuna, he struggled to fend for himself as breadwinner to his family of seven.
“Phoon started growing papayas in November. They are starting to bear fruit now and should be ready for harvest by September. After the first harvest, a papaya tree can last two years, ”says Ho.
“He also grows organic vegetables, for which he uses processed goat and chicken manure. Some of the best products are kangkung, mustard greens, spinach, and lettuce. “
To further develop the Better Living program and use at least half of the 60-acre farmland, Ho hired a business consultant.
Dr Hank Yap to transform parts of the land into an agro-tourism spot. This concept fits well with the plan and serves as a way to bring consumers to the farm. About 20% of the proceeds, from entrance fees and accommodation in cabins built on the farm, are used to repay subsidized loans taken out by farmers.
“The idea is to create a sustainable business model for farmers. I don’t want them to be in debt for life, even though the loan is interest free. I also wanted to open another area to serve as an awareness or education platform for the people of the Klang Valley, ”Ho says.
“People, especially children, have forgotten how important nature is. They are so engrossed in their gadgets that they barely come out. “
To entertain and occupy visitors, a goat pen has been built. There are now over 100 goats. A small animal farm was added to the mix later. Now customers can also access the neighboring shrimp farm.
Yap says the location is also used by businesses to host team building activities. In addition to the chalets, there is a dormitory that can accommodate 30 people. These facilities were built by the former landowner, who ran a seaside resort.
Having spent most of his youth as a chartered accountant and corporate banker, Ho always wanted to give back to society by improving people’s living conditions. “The love of money is the root of all evil. However, I think the lack of money is the root of all the problems, ”he says.
“It’s easy for us to criticize people who face hardship or are in poverty if they cheat, take drugs or are involved in a host of social ills. But not many people think about what they can do to help them get out of this cycle, how to help them not to feel left out.
“When you don’t even have enough money to buy basic necessities such as infant formula for a hungry and crying baby, for example, you will know what it feels like to be stricken with. inability. Such experiences lead to bigger problems, and when people run out of options, circumstances force them to do things they normally wouldn’t do.
“One way to do this is to donate to charity. But for me, charity is not a lasting solution. Make no mistake, charities do a great job. We must commend the caregivers for their tireless efforts. But charity does not lift people out of poverty. It’s also the first thing to take away when funding runs out. Thus, those who depend on charity find it difficult to trust themselves.
Ho believes that the best way to provide assistance in a constructive way is to help those affected learn a skill. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. That’s why I think the only way out of poverty is education, to arm them with knowledge. Then they have to acquire a skill to be able to earn a living, which is the main purpose of using this piece of land for agricultural activities, ”he says.
“My family and friends always ask me why I am working so hard to build this place and expand it. This is not a five star hotel, but it is a place for those who are in poverty but are willing to work hard and earn a living to feel proud of their accomplishments. “
Having seen the kind of impact the Better Living program has had on Kuna and Phoon and their families, Ho hopes to expand the reach of the program. In addition to looking for other potential candidates, he wants the two farmers to improve their skills. As Phoon needs more time, he hopes to help Kuna develop his skills first.
“Nothing is firm yet, but we would like to help Kuna improve his skills and teach others what he has learned. He too wants to help others who are in a similar situation. He wants to pay it up front, ”says Ho.
“Today her family lives peacefully knowing that she is able to resist anything thrown at her because she has a skill. The children of Kuna attend a nearby Tamil school, where they have won awards for academic excellence. This is proof that it all comes down to the environment in which we find ourselves.
“I hope to work with Kuna to develop a training program. He’s good at hands-on, but maybe not very practical in terms of using technology to teach, so I feel obligated to help him put together a team to teach others. If he can multiply his experience, the social impact will be greater.
During this farm interview, Ho and his family and a group of friends were trying to go rafting on a nearby pond. The infectious laughter of children filled the air as they tried to figure out how to assemble a small four-barrel raft using PVC pipes and barrels. “It’s a great place for families to come together and bond,” says Ho.