Ulu Yam farmer's to bring their plight
to Parliament on Thursday
by Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew
(Kuala Lumpur, Monday): In response to the controversial Ulu Yam vegetables farmers' eviction saga, Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo has said that the effected farmers may be given an alternative site with smaller plots of land or they may be encouraged to turn to commercial crops. He also said that the farmers should embark on organic farming to make more earnings. He however did not touch on specific or details, or mention anything about compensations for the farmers.
Khir Toyo's proposal was a bad reflection of his poor understanding of the issue and the plight of the farmers. His proposal was unacceptable for a number of reasons:
l Not all agricultural lands were suitable for vegetables farming. The existing Ulu Yam farmers happened to be one of the best that’s available in the state.
l Smaller plots of land would not be sufficient to provide enough produce to satisfy the needs of the local market. At the moment, the farmers here collectively supply a total of 80 tons of vegetables per day, i.e. about 50% of the total market for Selangor and other neighboring states.
l The market for organic vegetables was not well-established in the country. Consumers are not willing to pay for higher prices for vegetables.
l Planting commercial crops is a long–term venture. Even if the farmers were given free agricultural lands to plant commercial crops, most of them may not have the capitals and skills or may be too old to start anew.
The Selangor State Government should not compete with the rakyat for agricultural lands. Khir Toyo should instead help the farmers to obtain their respective land rights so that they have the peace of mind to invest on long–term basis and in turn increase their produce of vegetables. Such effort would help to reduce our imported food bills, which stood at more than RM14 billion a year since 2003. It was estimated that every Malaysian citizen consumes an average of 45 kilos vegetables per annum.
As it is, more than 70% of the vegetables farmers in Selangor and the rest of the country were operating without proper land rights. They were regarded as "illegal" farmers by the government all these years.
The developer for the controversial Ulu Yam plots, Permodalan Negeri Selangor Sdn Bhd, is a fully-owned state venture. Khir Toya should direct the company to bring its development elsewhere, instead of rooting up the valuable Ulu Yam vegetables farms.
Last Friday, the Minister of Agriculture was talking about adding another six to seven thousand new officers to his ministry, with an aim to increase the net worth of national agriculture produce from RM4 billion to RM 8 billion. We believe that granting land rights for the farmers is certainly far more productive than increasing the number of staff.
The Prime Minister cum Finance Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi has stressed on the importance of agriculture in his 2005 Budget. He has allocated RM1.5 billion to promote agriculture and described agriculture as the third growth engine for the national economy. He should now direct all state governments to allocate more lands for agricultural activities and direct the Ministry of Agriculture to provide incentives to all farmers, and draw up a comprehensive national agricultural policy and action plans.
DAP Selangor would assist the Ulu Yam Farmers to bring their plight to the Malaysian Parliament, hoping to meet up with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Agriculture, the Opposition Leader and all other parliamentarians on Thursday, 9 Dec 2004.
* Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew, DAP International Secretary and NGO bureau chief