The women of Koonduan Kiau Nuluh Enterprise
KUNDASANG: The cracks on the floors of the community clinic in Kampung Kiau Nuluh, a tiny village close to the mighty Mount Kinabalu, is a stark reminder of the massive earthquake which rocked Sabah two years ago.
But it is also a reminder of the catalyst which brought villagers of different faiths together to save their livelihood, wrecked by the 6.0 magnitude earthquake.
That earthquake – the strongest ever recorded in Malaysia – claimed the lives of 18 people.
In Kiau Nulu, many of the villagers are pineapple farmers. Before June 5, 2015, the pineapples they grew could fetch RM2 per kg.
But after the earthquake damaged the farms, prices suddenly plummeted to a mere 50 sen per kg.
That’s when the Good Shepherd Services (GSS), a non-profit organisation, stepped in to initiate a programme to turn the pineapples into other products to increase their value.
KKNE women filling the jars with chutney
Called Koonduan Kiau Nuluh Enterprise (KKNE), the programme sees 49 women, aged 18 to 60, manage and run their own pineapple-based food business.
“We wanted to help the community by empowering the women and turning them into entrepreneurs, instead of just supplying pineapples to middlemen,” said GSS coordinator Emilia Simon, adding that “Koonduan” was the Dusun word for “women”.
Emilia told FMT that all 49 women were pineapple farmers, so they all had to commit to supplying the fruits – which they carry in baskets weighing up to 40kg at a time – and be part of the production process.
The KKNE set-up sees the women being split into four groups, each producing one of four food products, namely pineapple juice, pineapple jam, sweet chutney and anchovy chutney.
They are led by department heads in charge of administration, production, marketing, store management, and product development and projects.
Pineapple Chutney and Pineapple Jam
“They run the show and that’s what we want. The GSS only serves to guide them, and all profits are split evenly among the 49 women,” Emilia said.
Every three months, the GSS would meet with the women, where everyone would be briefed on the programme’s progress and accounts.
KKNE head of production Aireen Gumbih said the programme had brought the women closer together. This can be seen by the way they chat and joke with one another while working.
“In this village, most of the people are either Catholic, Sidang Injil Borneo (a Christian denomination) or Muslim.
“We’ve always lived in harmony, but we’ve never had any kind of economic cooperation. Each family would just work on their own.
KKNE Head of Production, Aireen Gumbih
“I didn’t think this could happen, but now we can see new relationships being developed, people working side by side.
“The earthquake didn’t break us and instead made us stronger. It brought us together.”
Aireen said she and her colleagues had also benefited from the knowledge and exposure.
She hoped to continue learning new things and earn a little bit of money along the way.
She said their current “factory”, a wooden hall they’ve been using since January last year, was only temporary as the Sabah Credit Corporation had generously funded the construction of a new building for making the pineapple products.
But despite the so-called factory’s humble looks, it’s serious business inside as far as quality goes.
One of the women carrying a basket of pineapples
Only the freshest fruits are chosen. They are grown using organic fertiliser. The women use face masks, hairnets and gloves at all times.
They also use canning equipment which preserves the products without preservatives.
The result is a line of all-natural pineapple products from the Kiau Nuluh fertile highland grounds.
Aireen said she felt proud whenever she saw their products being sold in Kota Kinabalu, the state’s capital city.
The products are mostly sold through government agencies, stalls at markets and fairs, and selected shops. They retail from RM4 for the juice to RM15 for the anchovy chutney.
“Before this, people knew Kiau Nuluh for tourism. I hope one day the world will know us for our pineapple products,” said Aireen.