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Malaysian urban dwellers ‘reclaim’ city land, one garden at a time

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Ng Sek San, the founder of Kebun-kebun Bangsar community garden speaks during an interview in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia April 3, 2021. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Beh Lih Yi

“Land is an extremely expensive resource in the inner city and a lot of people lack access to it, whether it’s just for a walk in the park or to plant their own food,” he said. “We need to reclaim back some of our resources in the city.”

By Beh Lih Yi
June 10, 2021


Using pockets of overgrown land under power lines or slivers sitting idle by the river, community gardeners are busy digging, hoeing and weeding in a city that is better known for its glitzy shopping malls and testing traffic jams.

But they face threats of eviction and legal uncertainty, highlighting the barriers to community land access and fuelling calls for authorities to loosen rules governing urban farming.

“We are not committing any crimes,” said Ng Sek San, a landscape architect who founded Kebun-kebun Bangsar, a community garden in an affluent part of the capital that has been running since 2017.

The garden, on a plot of land under pylons, draws a steady crowd of visitors and volunteers on weekends seeking respite from stifling city life, but last year it was issued with an eviction order after the authorities withdrew a temporary lease.

“We need to…question discretion, when the law is unjust or not updated for our current city living,” said Ng, who continues to run the garden despite risking five years in jail and a 500,000-ringgit ($121,000) fine, if the order is enforced.

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