SPECIAL TREAT: Chong serving up the Kelapa Pandan.
KUDAT, the northern district of Sabah, has always been known for its coconut groves.
The cococut tree, found throughout the tropics, has many uses, including oil from the kernel.
In Kudat, the people dry the kernel for copra from which coconut oil is extracted and used for frying, cooking, and making margarine.
Other uses include coconut extracts for savoury dishes, biscuits and cakes as well as chocolate bars.
Recently, in Kudat, the Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) was making its presence felt. VCO is a coconut by-product, believed to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic and antiviral properties.
Chong Shui Yin, 62, who owns 15 acres of coconut groves, said it is because of these health values that the people of Kudat should not abandon coconut planting.
“I have noticed many people resorting to other commercial crops that are more viable in today’s market. These include oil palm.”
He is sad that huge coconut grove tracts are disappearing because other cash crops are preferred.
“I believe in development just like anyone else. I’m happy we are moving ahead with the rest of the world in this respect. I commend those planting oil palm because it’s a lucrative venture, even with the fluctuating market.”
However, he pointed out that this should not mean the old commodity (like coconuts) coming from this part of the state should be forgotten altogether.
“I know the old coconut trees are getting too tall and no longer suitable and it was with this in mind that I replanted new trees provided by the Agriculture Department.”
Chong planted Matag Coconut to replace the old trees his father, a Chinese immigrant who came to the state before the Second World War, planted before him.
“When I inherited this farm from my father, I was getting a bit apprehensive about the tall trees. How could I possibly harvest the coconuts unless we waited for them to drop and sell them as matured fruits. We also couldn’t get to the young ones for their water because of the tall trees.”
PLANTATION HOME: Chong’s home at his coconut plantation.
A well-known and well-liked personality in Kudat, Chong was in the know about new strains of coconuts from the Agriculture Department so when he heard about Matag, he was quick to apply for it.
“I’m very happy and satisfied with this strain. It has big fruits and thick kernels which are very useful for copra,” he said, adding that it also grew fast and bore fruits in less than five years.
“The Matag strain is very good and highly recommended for planters who want to replant or clear new land for planting.”
Chong who is usually in his farm in Kampung Kimihang to monitor pests like squirrels, said he is now harvesting hiscoconuts and drying them for copra.
“I also supply a santan-making factory in Kudat,” he shared.
Santan is coconut milk but usually made into powder so that it lasts longer.
Chong has also planted Kelapa Pandan. This strain is actually from Thailand and imported to Malaysia.
DIFFERENT STRAIN: Coconuts of the Kelapa Matag variety.
“I planted this coconut for variety — and also for my guests. I like to give them coconut drink to slake their thirst upon arrival at my farm.
“I think the taste of cool coconut water with pandanus fragrance is delicious,” he enthused.
However, he will sell them to anyone who wants them. Wholesalers usually buy from him at 40 to 60 sen each.
“I think when one looks at that figure, it appears small but we sell in bulk and the wholesalers usually come and buy from our plantation — so it’s easier than bringing them to sell outside,” he explained.
Chong — with years of experience planting coconuts and has gone through his young days earning his keeps from selling coconuts — has called on the youths to carry on this legacy in Kudat.
ON WATCH: Chong doing the rounds at his coconut plantation.
“Kudat can reach to its full potential through our own efforts as residents. The coconut — through its various uses — can
be promoted extensively to tourists.
“Its VCO, its water which is good for health as well as its uses as building materials, can be tapped and displayed to our visitors,” he suggested.
“With our culture, traditions, natural heritage and the coconut groves, we can promote Kudat as one of the best tourism destinations.”
Indeed, coconut plantations should be maintained in Kudat to perpetuate identity of the district.