For decades now, Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu has been in charge of modernising agriculture and improving rural development, but nothing much has changed.
KUCHING: Krian assemblyman Ali Biju has questioned the state government’s programme to modernise agriculture and eradicate poverty in rural areas.
Debating the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak Abang Muhammad Salahuddin Abang Barieng’s address in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly sitting, Biju said:
“The state government has been developing large-scale plantations for commercial crop.
“However, Bumiputera participation in agri-business does not even reach 20% and the majority of rural communities are having income below the poverty line index of RM850 per month.
“As such, an aggressive socio-economic transformation plan is required in rural areas.
“This transformation requires complete overhaul of agricultural practices and construction of basic infrastructures.”
Citing the situation in the Krian constituency, Biju said the most effective way to improve socio-economic conditions in rural communities is to develop smallholdings of commercial crop, especially oil palm and high-yield rubber.
“Smallholdings do not only eradicate poverty rate among rural farmers but also reduce dependency on foreign workers in plantation, provide job opportunities, minimise rural-urban migration, develop rural entrepreneur, empower rural communities and provide a sense of pride to farmers through self-reliance.
“It also helps to preserve native culture and customary practices on their land.
“Smallholdings of four hectares of proper commercial farms can create tremendous socio-economic change for rural households,” Biju said.
He urged the government of the day to come out with specific programme to assist and cultivate at least four hectares per family of commercial crops, either oil palm or rubbers.
No assistance for smallholders
He said that throughout the Krian constituency, there are many genuine poor rural farmers interested in oil palm planting.
“However, a lot of their applications for assistance to MPOB [Malaysian Palm Oil Board] office are not entertained or not processed without any reason.
“I would like to thank State Agricultural Modernisation Minister [Alfred Jabu Numpang] in his oral reply that the government will provide assistance through MPOB irrespective of their political affiliation since poverty eradication is applicable to all poor farmers.
“So far, the government has not allocated sufficient budget to cater for the needs of oil palm smallholders. I would like to know how much has been allocated to oil palm smallholders.
“How many applications have been received and approved by MPOB?” Biju asked.
He also questioned the financial capability of the government to plant 200,000ha by 2021 of high- yield rubber trees as planned by Pemandu (Performance Management and Delivery Unit).
“I would like to express my concern on the availability of federal fund to finance such an ambitious undertaking.
“Such undertaking costs about RM13,500 per ha to plant rubber trees so the government has to set a budget of RM2.7 billion over the next 10 years or RM270 million per year.
“Looking at the budget to plant rubber for 2012 of about RM70 million, it means we are way behind our target already,” he said.
A lot of smallholders, through their own efforts, plant commercial crops like oil palm and rubber without waiting for assistance from agricultural department.
“They are facing many obstacles, especially relating to terracing and construction of farm roads leading to their farms.
“I urge the agricultural department to come out with a specific scheme to assist those genuine farmers.
“Rubber smallholders are also facing problem with the quality of seedlings provided through the agricultural department.
“Many of the seedlings cannot grow properly or simply die after planting. Replacement seedlings should be supplied immediately to replace dead seedlings.
“Farmers must be advised and given technical training assistance so that they can produce their own seedlings with quality ‘bud eyes’ taken from reputable suppliers of high-yield rubber clones,” he added. -----The Free Malaysia Today