Keepers Of The Spice Trade
WINE&DINE|April - June 2021
From its glory days along trade routes to pantry staples all over the world, spices have become so commonplace that we’ve taken them for granted. For these three trailblazers, however, spice is their livelihood and motivation: Langit Collective working with indigenous rural farming communities in Malaysia; IDH’s Sustainable Spice Initiative; and chef Nak’s one-woman mission to share forgotten Khmer cuisine.
Priyanka Elhence

Our greatest value is working directly with our farmers. Learning alongside them gave us invaluable knowledge and the ability to create effective solutions that are needs-based.” — Melisa Lim, CMO and co-founder of Langit Collective

A social enterprise that works with smallholder farmers in rural communities from East Malaysia, the collective is named after the sky in Lun Bawangs’ native language, Buri Tau. Founded in 2015, it was created with the intention of forming a sustainable livelihood for the indigenous farmers of Sabah and Sarawak that is modelled after regenerative agriculture.

It was an idea that came about organically. The team previously worked for a non-profit, coordinating different community-based projects in the Maligan Highlands in Lawas, Sarawak. Having spent so much time in the villages, they were eventually ‘adopted’ by families there and given local names to welcome them into the community.

As of 2020, the collective works with 69 individual farmers—three indigenous farming communities across nine villages—with their biggest partners being the heirloom rice and grains farmers grown by the Lun Bawang people in Sarawak. Other communities they work with include a Bidayuh farmer from Sarawak who grows single-origin and single variety peppercorn and Dusun farmers from Sabah who grow ground ginger. They give the indigenous farming communities access to the wider local, regional and international market.

Pre-pandemic, the team also organised annual Langit Experiences for people to participate in the traditional rice harvest and planting seasons. The hands-on opportunities were vital to giving the public a taste of a farmers’ daily life in hopes of cultivating greater empathy as well as understanding the interconnectivity of people and nature.

Langit also works closely with their farmers to learn their traditional way of farming, whilst looking for modern and regenerative modules to improve their methods and achieve better sustainability. “Our greatest value is working directly with our farmers. Learning alongside them gave us invaluable knowledge and the ability to create effective solutions that are needs-based. By having a good foundation and understanding of the farmers’ produce, we are also able to then translate those to our products marketing value,” adds Melisa Lim, CMO & one of the four co-founders of Langit Collective.

And the effects have already been felt. One of their pepper farmers is transitioning to a chemical-free and biodynamic farm. Further plans in the pipeline include a community level organic certification for the farmers to recognise and authenticate their products. The Food Prints Initiative, launched last year, aids the cause by achieving higher food integrity through transparency and traceability.

Thanks to Langit Collective, indigenous produce has gotten a good reputation within the F&B industry for their quality. Not only have do the farmers have an alternate source of income from their goods sold at a fair market rate (a minimum of 35 per cent of retail proceeds go directly to them), but it has also helped restore a sense of pride for their heritage knowing that they’re appreciated for what they do.

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