When Malaysia went on red alert from mid-March as coronavirus cases surged, most people were forced to stay at home and many also lost their jobs.
Amid the boredom and despair, some Malaysians quickly found a new resourcefulness.
Some began growing edible plants as a hobby, others to provide their households with fresh greens.
According to a report in May, based on a survey by market research company Vase.ai on Malaysians’ spending on non-essential items during the movement control order (MCO), 86 per cent of respondents said they bought gardening tools.
Under the MCO that was imposed from March 18, most people could leave their homes only to buy essentials such as groceries, and to seek medical treatment.
Ms Ivy Sam of organic farm Homegrown Farms in Semenyih, on the southern edge of Kuala Lumpur, told The Straits Times: “We have had huge interest from people asking for farming workshops and almost daily calls from people with land who want to try farming.”
She added: “We had a webinar recently with over 100 people tuning in, asking questions.”
The 0.4-ha farm which Ms Sam, 41, and her 51-year-old husband Michael Simon built up in the last 5 years has also seen more orders for their aquaponic balcony system, which lets users grow leafy greens and rear fish at the same time. This system is designed for those living in apartments or small houses.
“Our orders quadrupled in the first week of the MCO and our order books are full till the end of the year,” she said.
Meanwhile, advertising executive Ahmad Akmal Affan ditched city life last month after being unemployed for three months, and returned to his kampung to put his green thumb to good use.
“There are also vegetables like kangkung, tapioca and potato growing wild, and sometimes, I go fishing near the paddy fields where you can net gourami and catfish,” said the 34-year-old, who lives in Kampung Santan, a village in the northern state of Perlis.
“This way, I won’t be a burden and we can sustain ourselves during this difficult time,” he said.
The government has said 520,000 Malaysians lost their jobs in the first seven weeks of the MCO.
The Malaysian economy, the third largest in South-east Asia after Indonesia and Thailand, is expected to shrink by 3.1 per cent this year compared to a 4.3 per cent expansion last year.
Growing greens can be a satisfying hobby that helps lower grocery bills, as home-maker Noor Idayu Mohd Idris, 33, found out.
“I started gardening on March 25, a week after the start of MCO. I was bored and didn’t know what to do with my son as we couldn’t go to the playground.”
She now has over 30 types of plants in the small garden of her terrace house, including bok choy, kale, basil, okra and mango.
Because all the plant nurseries were closed during the partial shutdown, she bought everything online – from soil to seeds and pesticides, spending around RM70 (S$23), including shipping.
She saves more than RM15 a week on her grocery bill as she does not need to buy vegetables, she said.
Separately, Ms Amanda Sanusi, a mother of five, also started growing her own greens during the MCO.
She has grown pandan, lemongrass and other edible plants, and her family is now attempting to grow rock melon, mango, cucumber and chillies from leftover seeds.
“Sometimes when you buy herbs, they come in a big packet but you only need one or two leaves, and then you forget to use the rest and it gets wasted,” the 42-year-old said.
“If you plant it yourself, you take what you need for free and there is no waste,” she said.