The Borneo Post (Sabah)
Buffaloes getting ‘too smart’ for their own good
KOTA KINABALU: Buffaloes are getting too smart for their own good.
Having nothing to do anymore other than eating has made them naughty.
At least, that is the view of many villagers who still produce rice, the grain that is at the heart of our culture as Sabahans.
Buffaloes were once key to producing our rice. It was with their patient labour that the paddy fields were leveled and ploughed, ridges and canals maintained, and the crops carried back to the village and to market.
They ate the crop residues, their manure was our NPK fertiliser, and they helped us thresh the rice after harvesting.
When, as children, once we were tired of weeding the field we played with them as we rode them back home. Buffaloes learned discipline, and buffalo owners kept them out of peoples’ fields.
The village of Tinuhan lies on a ridge 3km from the township of Tenghilan. Beneath view of majestic Kinabalu the people of Tinuhan have relied on paddy cultivation since the village was founded.
In recent years however, this has changed and the number of farmers has decreased. One of the reasons for this is the buffalo problem.
Whereas buffaloes and the production of rice were once closely intertwined, they have now become enemies.
Mention of buffaloes brings frustration and exasperation for all those involved.
Since tractors and other machinery took over in the 1980s, when buffaloes are now seen in the paddy field it is not because they are working. Instead they are there to eat the growing rice, which they much prefer to the sour “saimah malas” grass that grows in abandoned paddy lands.
In addition, this means that the farmers suffer damage to their culverts, ridges, drains and fences, as the bovids trample happily around the field. With broken hearts, many farmers have just given up.
Sabah now produces only one quarter of the rice it consumes and for nearly 30 years the state government has been trying and failing to reach the 60% selfsufficiency level. When Covid-19 came and threatened our imports, the buffalo problem became part of the state’s emergency.
The issue with buffaloes have been raised by the villagers for a long time but still cannot be resolved.
“I have contacted the police, the animal services department, the agriculture department and the surrounding village heads to discuss how to overcome this problem, but it does not bring any change”, said Lombuti Senteri, Tinuhan’s village chief.
After the Chua Kah Seng (CKS) supermarket in Tuaran told the villagers that each family could only buy one 10kg bag of rice during the initial Movement Control Order, the villagers of Tinuhan and neighbouring Lapasan Ulu decided to go back to growing their own paddy.
Since June this year huge efforts have been made to bring old paddy fields back into production, including repairing irrigation and drainage systems, constructing ridges and flattening and terracing the area.
Alongside support from Yayasan Hasanah, Kampong Campus, Sapulut Forest Development in Kalabakan and the Sabah Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID), the project requires a lot of heavy work and commitment by villagers, and thirty-nine families have now planted rice of many delicious and nutritious local varieties.
In an effort to prevent more buffalo attacks on paddy crops, the project assisted farmers with the materials needed to make wire fences around the paddy cultivation area. But lazy and hungry buffaloes are smart.
According to Jualah Enggang, one of the community participants, “Buffaloes are usually active in attacking paddy fields at night, and they are good at damaging the barriers by knocking the poles or jumping over the fence from a high ground”.
With the problem mostly caused by buffaloes whose owners do not live in Tinuhan, it has not been easy for the affected village to solve it on their own.
In August 2020, the project management team held a meeting with the village head, MPKK and the Animal Services Department to discuss this matter.
A representative from the Animal Services Department, Mr. Freed, provided a useful explanation of livestock law and regulations as well as providing some suggestions to control this buffalo problem in future.
The results of the meeting led to a community effort around preventing the problem of buffaloes from arising.
Paddy farmers first need to secure the fencing of their paddy cultivation area. Next, buffalo owners will also need to make a fence for their buffaloes in a grazing field or village land. The responsibility of these owners is key, because buffaloes may be free from work but they are still someone’s property.
The villagers then have to make a compound next to the paddy fields to trap and keep troublesome buffaloes that have entered the paddy field to damage the crops.
When that happens, the Animal Services Department can be contacted so the owners of these hooved culprits can be identified and a punishment or “sogit” will be set for their release by the village head with advice from the Agriculture Department and the Animal Services Department.
So far this year the buffaloes have been kept out of the paddy project members fields, but the closer the rice gets to forming their soft sweet grains the more the buffaloes will use their spare time to find a way to get in and eat them.
But this buffalo problem was not established by buffaloes. People deciding to replace buffaloes with machinery but continue keeping unemployed buffaloes as investments created it. Problems created by people have to be solved by people. The buffaloes are not thinking about the solution. If they are thinking about anything else other than eating, it is to just hope that human disorganization continues.
Therefore, the villagers of Kg. Tinuhan will need to work together to improve the barbed wire fences in the paddy cultivation area, and, even more important, place fences in the grazing land area. If they can avoid buffalo damage from within the village as well as the buffalo threat from the surrounding villages, then perhaps the picturesque image of buffaloes among the paddy fields beneath Mount Kinabalu will be welcomed once more in Kg Tinuhan.