Home NewsAustralia ‘Match made in heaven’: Refugee families band together to create farming co-op

‘Match made in heaven’: Refugee families band together to create farming co-op

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Factor Sai Manrhing loved farming the luxurious, inexperienced hillsides of Myanmar earlier than being compelled to flee his residence nation. 

He and his spouse Zilhing Takluem arrived in Australia in 2013 and ever since, they’ve been longing to get again on the land. 

Mr Manrhing secured work as a picker on a blueberry farm in Coffs Harbour, on the NSW Mid North Coast, however he is at all times wished to have his personal farm.

He additionally discovered meals like okra and rosella leaf, that are standard in Myanmar, had been inconceivable to search out or too costly to purchase from native outlets.

Mr Manrhing’s dream of beginning a farming enterprise was shared by lots of the area’s Myanmar neighborhood members, who got here to Australia already outfitted with agriculture expertise.

Collectively, 5 refugee households approached not-for-profit group Settlement Providers Worldwide (SSI) for assist.

“They actually highlighted three issues: they wished to work collectively, they wished to farm and practise their cultural, conventional expertise, they usually actually wished to be self-sufficient and create one thing for his or her future generations,” SSI’s Rebecca Mordaunt mentioned.

The group registered as a not-for-profit known as the Myanmar Group Agriculture Co-operative.

Chickens and geese in a big pen made out of bamboo.
Zilhing and Factor Sai develop rosella leaf, lettuce, okra, inexperienced bean and tomatoes on their block.(ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

Beginning the farm

Joshua Allen used to run an natural vegetable farm on his 13-hectare property at Nana Glen, 20 minutes north-west of Coffs Harbour, however it had been mendacity dormant for a few years.

“It was most likely 12 months in the past that we had been on the market questioning what is going on to occur with the farm,” Mr Allen mentioned.

“We had been approached by [small business program] Ignite and SSI who mentioned we have a neighborhood searching for a farm.

Josh Allen helps a Myanmar farmer use a small crop machine.
Joshua Allen has helped the farmers higher perceive farming the land in Australia.(ABC Coffs Coast: Kate Aubrey)

Mr Allen gave the co-operative two and a half hectares, with every of the 5 households taking a half-hectare block and leaving some land for livestock.

After a five-month grace interval to search out their ft they now pay lease for the land.

Adjusting to a brand new panorama

The farmers have had surprising challenges farming in Australia.

“Soil is excellent in Burma, right here we have to use fertiliser,” Mr Manrhing mentioned.

A structure made out of bamboo and steel poles has a lush green bean vine growing on it.
The co-operative develop greens which can be standard in Myanmar to share with their neighborhood. (ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

Speaking, understanding lease and studying methods to run a enterprise in Australia have additionally been difficult. 

“It’s extremely arduous for me as a result of I do not actually perceive English,” Mr Manrhing mentioned.

Van Sui Tiel and her husband Som are one other household that make up the co-operative.

They misplaced nearly all of their summer time crop because of document rainfall and flooding.

“Once we began this farm the rain was an excessive amount of and earlier than, we planted zucchini they usually almost died and we planted once more they usually died, all the pieces died,” Ms Tiel mentioned.

“We additionally planted beans … however a number of rain destroyed [it] all and yeah, we could not promote all the pieces.”

Myanmar farm Van
Van Sui Tiel mentioned she is hopeful her winter crop of snow peas and lettuce will thrive. (ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

Ms Tiel finds time to come back out to the farm when she is not caring for her younger children.

“I’ve three children. Two are at school and the opposite is in little one care, so after I drop them off I come straight [to the farm],” she mentioned.

The farm can be utterly natural, so the farmers do not use chemical substances to manage pests and weeds.

“I spent all day yesterday pulling out the weeds … some weeds I’ve by no means seen earlier than … it’s arduous work,” Ms Tiel mentioned.

Young girl sits next to crop wearing a pink ballerina skirt and pink gumboots, smiling.
Van brings her youngsters out to the farm most weekends.(ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

Serving to his mother and father 

Thang Kin Shetta is the youngest member of the group and joined the co-operative to offer his mother and father extra alternative.

“The most important factor is language for them they usually do not converse very properly however they know the place to go … and the place to purchase in order that they know all the pieces — it is simply language,” he mentioned.

Thang Kin wearing fluro top and safety glasses.
Thang Kin Shetta studied English for 3 years and enjoys socialising on the manufacturing unit.(ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

He balances full-time work at a glass manufacturing unit in Coffs Harbour with serving to out on the farm.

“[I go to the farm] totally on weekends,” Mr Shetta mentioned.

“It is good to work the early afternoon shift [at the glass factory] as a result of I am free within the morning and when it is sunny I’ve to go as much as the farm, watering stuff and are available again to work.

Promoting their produce

The group has began promoting a few of its produce at native markets, however has plans to increase additional.

“I do know that they are actually eager to open up a little bit of a shopfront right here on the farm and invite the neighborhood in,” Ms Mordaunt mentioned.

Rebecca stands in front of a ginger crop, wearing a brown raincoat, smiling.
Rebecca Mordaunt related the group with native enterprise mentors and farming specialists. (ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

She has been serving to the group from the start of their journey and mentioned they’d been extremely resilient. 

“It is such an enormous studying curve making a enterprise right here in Australia,” she mentioned.

“However then the challenges of studying about totally different soils and the totally different sorts of meals that Australians buy after which, after all, we’re coping with a La Nina occasion, so there are challenges with the climate as properly.

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on ABC iview.

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