Spotlight on AZLAN ADNAN, author, speaker, management consultant
1. What is your background? Give me a little about your experience and skills in permaculture.
My late mother will tell you that I planted my first durian tree when the cangkol was taller than I was. When I was in Form 3, the tree bore fruit for the first time and I brought these first fruits to school on Teacher's Day and presented them on stage to my headmaster at Victoria Institution - everyone in the school hall roared with laughter as it was so unusual.
I grew up in the suburb of Lower Ampang in a two-storey mansion with a large compound that is now the official residence of the Palestinian ambassador. We had a large garden with loads of fruit trees as both my parents were keen gardeners. So you can say I grew up in nature. In those days, there were serindit, egrets, merbok, terkukor, kingfishers, orioles (both burong kunyit besar and burong kunyit kecil) in our garden in addition to monitor lizards and the occasional cobra, python and vipers.
In school, from Forms 1 to 3, I took agricultural science as a subject which gave me the basis for further self-study.
2. When did this FOODSCAPE idea begin? Did you come out with the term"FOODSCAPE"?
I first came across the term foodscape - meaning edible landscape - from 8 years ago from videos out of the US. Foodscapes were an offshoot and development of the Grow Food, Not Lawns movement in the US where it is still illegal in many cities to grow anything but grass on your lawns.
3. Have you created a FOODSCAPE before? If yes, give me some details about it - where, when did you start etc.
I have numerous foodscape sites - several in Kampung Sungai Penchala, one in Kota Kinabalu, in Puchong and in Kampung Sungai Kayu Ara. The one in Kota Kinabalu was created in 2001, long before I heard of the term foodscape or permaculture. When I visited the site 10 years later, the pandan and kunyit (which are perennials) were still 1.5 m tall. The tenant says she never waters or fertilizes, just takes whatever she needs whenever she needs but otherwise lets them grow wild. Photos on FB here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1303338481101&type=3
4. How did the volunteer section start? How many do you have now?
The volunteering started on March 6 after you and Sabera took pity on me working on Kg Sg Kayu Ara foodscape all alone since January 2021. I don’t know how many volunteers there are - people come once, find out they are not cut out for physical labour and never come back. I don’t mind at all as I work on these foodscapes for my health - I need the exercise and the exposure to sunlight as I am Vitamin D3 deficient. More gets done when more volunteers help out - many hands make light work.
The Kg Sg Kayu Ara was an unkempt, overgrown and dirty dumpsite that was an abandoned pasar minggu site after the pasar minggu site was relocated. There were all sorts of rubbish - burnt out motorcycle carcasses, mattresses, tyres, pampers, furniture dumped and burnt on the site. The aur (elephant grass) was taller than people. There were weeds and vines growing all over the place. The public footpath was reduced to just a strip just 1.5 feet wide.
Altogether, 15 volunteers came on the first volunteering weekend of March 6 & 7 and we made more progress cleaning up the litter and rubbish than I was able to all alone since late January.
Volunteers benefit because they get pahala for cleaning up rubbish. Parents bring their children to teach them by example about civic consciousness - it is not a subject you learn at school - it’s an attitude and way of life, it’s a value they want to inculcate in their children to make them better people.
The Malays say kebersihan itu satu langkah dari kesucian - cleanliness is one step from holiness.
In return for volunteering, I teach the volunteers about organic gardening, sustainability, permaculture, bio-dynamic agriculture, do-nothing gardening. They are volunteers, not paid workers. They are free to never come back if its not suitable for them. But they’ll miss the opportunity to learn and to do merit-making.
Even if I work on my foodscape alone, I still get some things done, I still get my exercise and my Vitamin D3. Gardening is not a race - it teaches vision and planning for the long term.
If you want to be happy for a day, go fishing
If you want to be happy for a night, get drunk
If you want to be happy for a week, get married
But if you want to be happy for a lifetime, do gardening
5. Do you think FOODSCAPES are the solution to food security?
They are part of the solution. Its other role is to open people’s eyes to the issue of food security and to raise awareness. Malaya was traditionally an agrarian society but with industrialisation people lost sight of the importance of food security. I find it ridiculous that when it floods in Thailand or China, our cili prices go up. When it floods in India and China, our onion prices go up. When it floods in Queensland, our sugar supply gets scarce.
6. What would be your advice to more senior members who want to volunteer but are insecure about their fitness and energy levels?
Make a start. This is the most important step. Doesn’t matter how much you do, its more important to get started. Start small and work your way up gradually. Do not over-exert yourself and know your limits. Don’t try to be a hero and lift a 35 kg rock and get a slipped disc. The rule is consistency. Exercising 30 minutes a day is metabolically more beneficial than working out for 3.5 hours once a week at the gym. It doesn’t much matter what kind of exercise you do as long as it makes you sweat for 30 minutes daily. Sweating is a good indicator that you have reached a therapeutic level of exertion.