From African night crawlers to stingless bees, Kivatu Nature Farm is leading the way in organic farming – the crawlers refer to special earthworms used to convert food or plant waste into fertile compost.

As for the name of the farm, “Ki” means “there is” (in the Kadazandusun language), while “Vatu” means “stone”, as there was a quarry nearby before.

This project under the Pacos Trust, which began in 2012, aims to be a model farm as well as a training centre for communities.

Pacos encourages organic farming to boost the socio-economic growth of indigenous peoples.

The farm also serves as a propagation venue for various traditional plants, flowers, vegetables and citrus trees – the seedlings are then sold to the community at low prices.

Almost two acres (0.8ha) in size, the farm sits on an old, unutilised padi field lot belonging to the mother of Pacos executive director Anne Lasimbang.

Today, the farm thrives with asparagus, pepper, herbs, and various vegetables and fruits. There are also aquaponics systems (where catfish are reared in water tanks that irrigate plants like water spinach and herbs) and composting sites, as well as a stingless bee farm that produces honey and bee pollen.

At Kivatu Nature Farm, stingless bees are kept for their honey and bee pollen.

“We had been talking about going organic all this while, so the farm is a result of that. We’ve seen a big impact on the community from it,” said Lasimbang.

The main challenge of working with the community, she added, is changing their mindsets.

“That’s because they are so used to their old ways of thinking and doing things. Some ethnic groups are more forward thinking and want to learn new things but others take a longer time to change,” she shared.

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The farm is also next to the Pacos pre-school, which has close to 100 children at present.

“It’s good for the children to be in touch with nature. We want to promote healthy food for kids and self-sufficient farming,” said Lasimbang.

Kivatu also promotes various products produced by the communities that Pacos works with – there are mengkuang (screw palm leaves) and bamboo mats, organic rice (grown at the foothill of Mount Kinabalu), pepper, ginger powder and sago, to name a few.

One of the key activities at the farm includes making mudballs from rice bran, yellow clay soil and “good bacteria” in EMS (effective microbe activated solution), to help clean up rivers. EMS is made with rice water, molasses and effective microbes.

Volunteers making eco mudballs that have ‘good bacteria’ to help clean up rivers.

The good microbes in the mudballs break down sludge and reduce harmful bacteria in the water, once the mudballs are placed in rivers. One mudball the size of a tennis ball can last up to three months in the water. Three of these mudballs can clean up one square metre of water.

The farm also makes natural, organic fertilisers using fresh fish gut, molasses and food waste (like vegetable and fruit peels), thus showing how to create useful things from stuff that may otherwise be thrown away.