Within the rural communities of East Malaysia, there is a tradition of inheriting and passing down rice to different generations.
Heirloom rice is a type of rice that is grown using paddy seeds that are passed which are saved after each year’s harvest to be planted once again in the next year, and like the name says, passing this rice down from generation to generation like an heirloom is a valued tradition.
This is practiced among the indigenous group named Lun Bawang, a community in the Lawas highlands.
This rice is what Melisa Lim, Chan Zi Xiang, Chia Yong Ling and Lilian Chen, who were project coordinators for a non-profit at the time, had chanced upon during a field trip to Long Semadoh Valley.
For Chen, the sensation of eating the heirloom rice felt like a “first love.”
Because of this experience, the four decided to create a social enterprise called Langit Collective, which aimed at ensuring farmers get equal income for their crops.
Many farmers till lands that are unable to support them, which is why Langit Collective pushes for fair treatment of smallholders and their unique grains.
“Heirloom seeds are crucial as they reflect not only resilient crops that have withstood the test of time, but more importantly, the culture and heritage carried on by the indigenous farming communities,” says Melisa Lim, Langit Collective’s chief marketing officer.
While the four behind Langit Collective underwent extensive training and network in order to establish supply chains and launch their operation, the harder part was convincing the farmers themselves to join in.
“[Rural farming communities] are very pragmatic and want to see proven results before taking a plunge. Partly because many organizations have introduced projects that have no continuity,” continued Lim.
However, with grit and determination, the four eventually were able to get more and more farmers to commit to their cause, with 45 farmers currently on their lineup.
As of the moment, Langit Collective endorses heirloom rice and grains from Long Semadoh and Long Sukang in Sarawak.
Among their heirloom rice varieties are the Beras Adan, Beras Salleh, Beras Sia’, Beras Keladi and Beras Rumie, all of which are names taken from the native language of the indigenous farmers.
Heirloom rice and its various iterations have been celebrated in renowned Malaysian restaurants such as Dewakan, one of Asia’s Best Restaurants of 2019, which includes a porridge dish dedicated to Beras Keladi in their awarded menu.
Langit Collective also promotes spices from Keningau in Sabah and single-variety peppers from Serian in Sarawak.