Fernando Fong, Published Modified 2 Feb 2021, 12:35 pm
COMMENT | That layers of bureaucracy and intermediaries breed corruption needs little reiteration. Intermediaries and politicians have become synonymous with spiralling graft in the country.
Is there a need for go-betweens that increase costs and do not add to the value chain? Why should honest citizens pay for benefits for which they already qualify?
It may well be a better way of getting things done by letting the farmers deal directly with the land offices while rectifying land tenure security problems.
Cameron Highlands politician and farmer Chai Kok Lim – who stood for elections in 2008 for the Tanah Rata state seat and lost in a surprise defeat – cautioned that the days of affordable vegetables could be over for Malaysians.
The MCA strongman said this because Cameron Highlands farmers have tried unsuccessfully to revise the terms of the Pahang government’s new land policy.
“The reason we cannot stomach it is because of the massive hike in rent. In the past, it was about RM880 per acre, but now, we need to fork out RM4,500 per acre annually. This increase would spell doom for many smallholders whose farmlands average a tiny one to two acres in size,” Chai said.
In comparison, it costs RM24 per acre a year to plant oil palm in Pahang. It is even cheaper to lease agricultural land to grow fruits, at only RM8 per acre annually.
Chai conceded that it’s all about politics, pragmatism and economics.
“Cameron Highlands had traditionally been a BN stronghold, but not since 2008. The state government has not neglected Cameron Highlands, but it is also not showing ‘great concern’ for the opposition-leaning constituency,” he said.
Give farmers incentive
Chai’s comments, if short on specifics, indicate that the powers-that-be in Kuantan may not be inclined towards equal treatment of those who follow the beat of a different drummer.
Agricultural development is a significant contributor to the national economy. Farmers cannot invest in agricultural technology improvements to increase food supplies and agricultural productivity, so long as they are without the security of tenure for their land.
Therefore, land tenure reform, including eliminating unnecessary intermediaries that breed corrupt practices, is necessary for any long-term agricultural development plan.
Unless such issues are rectified, any effort to strengthen agricultural production and weed out graft will be futile. Farmers must be given incentives to invest in land and capital by giving them a sufficient perpetuation of land rights.
At the same time, it is only fair that the state government protects its ownership of land, hence it is essential to grant farmers leasehold rights that are mutually beneficial to both parties. Likewise, there needs to be a dispute resolution mechanism to have no room for extortion or harassment.
Extractive policies of the government will see consumers becoming victims to politics, money and power plays – and at the end of it all, we will have to pay more for our vegetables!