The new business model for the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) will take centre stage at the national-level Felda Settlers’ Day celebrations to be held tomorrow at Felda Selancar 3 in Muadzam Shah, Rompin.
Themed 'Peneroka Mandiri Felda Lestari' (Self-Reliant Settlers, Sustainable Felda), the event is set to give settlers a better understanding of Felda's new direction and the opportunities for higher and more consistent earnings under the new model.
This is the first time it is being held under the Pakatan Harapan administration, and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is expected to attend the event.
The new business model is among the proposals outlined in the Felda White Paper that was tabled in Parliament on April 10, to ensure the sustainability of Felda and increase settlers' income.
About 10,000 settlers are expected to participate in this year's Felda Settlers’ Day celebrations.
Besides the 112,635 Felda settlers, others also look forward to Felda Settlers Day, an annual affair since 2010 (it was not observed last year due to the change in government), as they are eager to see the progress of the new developments and initiatives undertaken by Felda.
Similar to the previous years' events, an exhibition will be held at this year's Felda Settlers Day to showcase the settlers' development programmes, said Felda director-general Dr Othman Omar (photo, above).
Redzuawan Ismail, better known as Chef Wan (photo), will also be present at the event, and he will demonstrate how to cook rabbit meat-based dishes.
Rabbit breeding is among the projects Felda is encouraging its settlers to get involved in.
Incidentally, the celebrity chef is a second-generation Felda settler from Felda Sungai Koyan, Pahang, and he will receive an award for being a Malaysian icon during the celebrations.
Othman said the main objective of Felda's new economic model is to create additional income streams for the settlers so that they no longer have to depend entirely on oil palm.
"Palm oil prices are so unstable these days and that's why our settlers have to look for new sources of income," he told reporters here recently after visiting the site for the Felda Settlers Day celebrations in Felda Selancar 3.
'Give fishing rod, no fish'
Othman, however, cautioned that the ongoing transformation will not be productive if the settlers do not change their old mindset of expecting handouts from the government
"Giving them handouts is akin to giving them fish instead of fishing rods," he said.
Drawing parallels between the Felda settlers and the old adage "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime", he said instead of handouts, the settlers should be shown the pathways to economic activities that can generate good returns over the long term.
According to Othman, there are about 17,000 settlers in the low-income bracket who are heavily in debt and completely dependent on their income from oil palm.
"The new business model is focused on helping this group to reduce their reliance on oil palm products, make them more dynamic and to rid them of their dependency mentality," he said.
Although he admitted it is not easy to change their mindset, he, however, is confident that the transformational strategies will inject more enthusiasm into them, and they would also be motivated by the success of their fellow settlers.
Othman, who assumed the post of Felda director general on Oct 1, 2018, said in the past there had been weaknesses in terms of settler development efforts due to the lack of participation of agencies that possess the necessary expertise and experience.
The new business model will see Felda collaborating with agencies like the Department of Agriculture, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) and Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) to develop a more complete ecosystem to ensure the success of the settlers.
"We will provide various mechanisms through the new model for settlers to manage their smallholding. They can either lease out their land or increase their income through the modules we've developed for them.
"In other words, we will teach them how to use a 'fishing rod to catch fish'," he added.
The new business model will appeal to the older settlers - almost 70 percent of them are aged 56 and above - who can lease their land to Felda for up to 20 to 30 years.
"This way, they will not have to borrow from Felda. Instead Felda will pay rent for their land every month.
"By leasing out their smallholdings, they will then have the time to focus on other initiatives with Felda's help. These include rabbit breeding and cultivating the Bentong ginger, or 'misai kucing', herb which can be done in the compounds of their homes as it doesn't require much land," Othman said, adding that their products be sold to the Felda cooperative.
He said the cooperative would be actively mobilised to develop large-scale projects on the land leased from the settlers, while the profits would be shared with the settlers - who are members of the cooperative - in the form of dividends.
"So far, three areas (in Felda schemes) have been developed through the cooperative," he pointed out.
According to Othman, other proposals include growing cash crops on a large-scale basis, utilising modern smart agricultural techniques to increase yields and reduce costs.
He said the second- and third-generation Felda settlers should make use of the opportunity to study smart agriculture which leverages on Industry 4.0 technologies.
He said the yield from each hectare of land planted with a cash crop can generate much higher revenue than oil palm.
"In fact, in some cases where modern cultivation techniques were used, the revenue generated was 10 times higher," he said,
Othman said intercropping can also be carried out on land where replanting has taken place, and the oil palm trees are still small.
Crops like banana and pineapple can generate an income of between RM500 and RM2,000 a month, which constitute a steady source of revenue for the settlers whilst they wait for the oil palm trees to mature, he said.
As for those whose trees have matured and cannot carry out intercropping, they can turn to livestock farming as an alternative source of income.
"Many Felda settlers who went into livestock farming have tasted success. In Felda Selancar itself, we have entrepreneurs who are rearing cattle and buffaloes.
"Based on their success, we can develop a module to help many other settlers," he said,
Othman added that he hoped Felda's efforts would help to restore the agency's glory and improve its finances.