Sunday, October 1

The neglected sector


Dr Ng Siew Thiam, through his vehicle Green Nature Richness Sdn Bhd, has penetrated the competitive Singapore market with his packaged frozen pork, under the brand name “Borneo Pork”, selling them in the NTUC Fair Price Supermarket, the largest supermarket chain in Singapore.

He has obviously got the know-how, being a veterinarian and using the Integrated Pig Farm in Simunjan as his launching pad.

Someone in the industry had said that if the farmers there stick to the rules and regulations, the pigs there lead a better life than human!

The pigs are raised at the highest of levels of health and hygiene. You go in you have to sanitise your shoes etc. The pigs live in air conditioned surroundings. Food is carefully regulated. How’s that for lifestyle!! But that is the regulatory system you have to adhere to penetrate the developed countries’ markets.

He also cited the proximity of Singapore as an advantage which we should take advantage of.

Elsewhere, in Asajaya, Bill Lu Thian Tack through his LTT Aquaculture Sdn Bhd has a 30-acre farm, breeding the much-touted empurau fish, and selling them in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, with an eye on China for the future.

There is the Ceria Group, producing indigenous rice. They have farms in various parts of Sarawak. They work with local farmers. They have a very innovative packaging idea, vacuum packing the rice in cube blocks. This allows for easy stacking on the shelves and into carton boxes. However, their paper wrap over the plastic bag and the frequent piercing of the vacuum bag as evidenced by those in the supermarket seem to be problems which need looking into.

There are the older brands such as Sundrop as well as Dahfa which have also been in the export market.

The heartache and tragedy for Sarawak about these cases are that they are the exceptions rather than the norm.

For all her vastness, and Sarawak always boast that she is as large as the whole of West Malaysia, and with a population of no more than 2.9 million sprinkled over her large expanse, yet she still fares badly in the agriculture sector.

Pepper cultivation, given the restricted usage of its end-product, will remain a secondary money earner for the state. Sago has also not received much attention. Why should the state?

Much of the attention has fallen upon oil palm cultivation, given the demand for the oil worldwide. But what is contentious is the manner which the previous administration had pushed into the sector.

Given the frenzied demands of planters, vast tracts of land were alienated to favoured parties before being sold to genuine planters. Within these lands included native customary land claims, thus pitting two parties against each other; one with the provisional land title and the other their customary and ancestral land claim.

Constant refusal to survey customary land had slowly worn out any hope of claiming what the natives deem their own.

Without their only linkage to the land, it is not surprising that the younger generations of natives have abandoned their rural land. There are 40,000 of them in Johor Bahru alone. That is about 10 per cent of the state’s Iban population. Are they displaced immigrants or a people in search of a better life?

Either way, under customary law, if you abandon or leave your customary land, then you also lose your rights over the land. So are the natives slowly squeezed out of their customary land facing a damned-if-you-do, damned-if you-don’t situation.

This is akin to the extension of leasehold rule of titled land. Prior to the rules set up to pay land premium for extension of leasehold, as is currently practised, there was no rule as to how land was valued for extension of leasehold or even if the government was going to renew at all. There was much fear that land may be taken back by government.

Under the circumstances, many people could not take loan with leasehold expiry in the near time horizon. Even if they could, some did not dare to invest in their land for fear of wasting the invested money, just in case the government did take back their land.

For customary land claimants, they are even worse of, as they do not even have a physical title to back their claim. Thus, if Sarawak is really to allow agriculture to play a significant role for her peoples, then land reforms or at least the government’s attitude towards land claims, may have to be relooked. It is not totally wrong to say that if titles were issued to the individual natives, they would sell it away the next day. However, there are certainly different ways to limit such activities.

Issuance by way of Section 16 of the Land Code as Communal Land may be the answer, before issuing individual title to each claimant after the collective land have been properly cultivated for several years. Once they see the value of their land then they will slowly refrain from selling their inheritance.

The government really has to look into ensuring the people’s affiliation to their land if they are to affirm their sense of belonging and to encourage them to put full effort towards agricultural endeavour.

A lesson could be learnt from Lee Kuan Yew with his housing policy. After independence, he made sure that each Singaporean had a house and a roof over his head and hence called Singapore his home. Only then will a Singaporean throw every ounce of his energy into his job and into his country.

This was herculean effort for a country the size of Singapore but what multiple returns that reaped in the 70s and 80s through its HDB policy for the little country that could. With a people at ease, the populace put their energy into nation building, and the Little Red Dot roared from Third World to First.

So will the Sarawak government be brave enough to bring the Iban diaspora home?

Another example of a little nation that could is New Zealand. The government has since the 1970s tried to honour the Treaty of Waitangi, and negotiated with the Maori towards an amicable return of their land. In some cases it was very painful as these land were beach front, or where government university now stands.

The Treaty of Waitangi is a treaty signed in 1840 when the British entered into a treaty with Maori tribes to take over the land that would become New Zealand to govern and make law, and in return to take into account the interest of the Maori.

Through the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was set up to look into all the grievances of the Maori people.

The moral stand of successive New Zealand governments had given rise to a renaissance of the Maori culture and a country proud of its government and of their cultural heritage. This has given rise to numerous opportunities by the Maoris, working together with the ‘pakehas’ (whites).

Some painful concessions were made to the Maori such as fishing rights and beachfront land as well as land already occupied by universities. In many cases the Maoris in turn joint ventured with able partners for great economic gains.

Is Sarawak brave enough to recognize the legitimate claims over the customary land of her people?

Another point to look into is the opportunities in Singapore. Their wealth also means that they have an insatiable power for consumption. Recently they announced their company Jumbo will go on an initial public offer towards a listing on the SGX and this is a company specializing in Singapore’s famous chilly crab. Imagine the number of chilly crab the country consumes.

Should we not just have a cursory look at what they consume and carries a high margin for us to supply them. Even herbs such as lemongrass or spring onion which we can easily raise. What a market Singapore represents for us.

However, like all high-end market, they are most discerning and insist on the best quality.

That is why Dr Ng’s frozen pig products can penetrate the Singapore market. The Simunjan integrated pig farm where his products are raised match the European standard.

Do we dare to open up our land for Singapore entrepreneurs? Joint ventures with them, perhaps. Even China’s President Xi Jinping going to Singapore is looking for agricultural technological products. So do we also need to look to Singapore for agricultural technological products?

The tragedy of our state is that we went into industries we have no knowledge of, such as the information technologies in the setting up of Samajaya Technology Park and the setting up of 1st Silicon. Now we are going into aluminium and other metal industries in Samalaju of which we know very little about.

We should have gone into the simple agricultural sector, and though it does not sound sophisticated, it is what our people knows best. For too long agriculture has been ignored. For too long our people’s needs have been ignored. But it is time for a renaissance of our people with a brave new Chief Minister.

Write Straight, Write Sharp!