Farmland lease undermines rights of Cameron Highlands' farmers

ADUN SPEAKS | Over the past two weeks, I received many complaints from the farmers in Cameron Highlands that some of the terms in the agricultural land lease recently announced by the state government are not favourable to them.

The lease does not guarantee farmers' rights and is apparently no different from the previous Temporary Operating Licence (TOL).

Pahang Menteri Besar Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail announced one month ago that the lease of agricultural land will benefit the agriculture sector in Cameron Highlands.

However, after studying thoroughly the content of the contract, it appears that once the contract is signed, farmers will be severely restricted whereas the industry would not be able to upgrade and transform as the menteri besar hoped for.

Since there are a total of 2,041 TOLs in Cameron Highlands, it can be foreseen that once the new agricultural land policy is implemented, about 90 percent of the farmers in Cameron Highlands will suffer as a result.

Cameron Highlands is a major producer of vegetables and flowers in our country, yet the newly proposed agricultural land policy has caused wide dissatisfaction and anger among farmers. The state government should immediately listen to the feedback of the industry to ensure that the policy will not bring about a vicious cycle during its implementation.

On Feb 2, farmers from Cameron Highlands sent a memorandum to the Pahang MB and to the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Land, Water and Natural Resources in Putrajaya.

Apart from being the highest rent for agricultural land in Malaysia which is RM4,500 per acre annually, many farmers also opine that the contract contains many unfair and unreasonable terms.

Almost all Cameron Highlands farmers who have TOLs have been cultivating locally for more than two generations, and some of them have even farmed for more than 50 years. Each farmer has invested countless hard work, money and time on the land, thus bringing a significant contribution to the country’s agriculture sector.

However, the new lease only provides a lease term of three plus two years and explicitly states that farmers are forbidden to pass their farmland to the next generation. Such terms are extremely unfair to farmers who are worried and perplexed about their future.

The contract also prohibits the use of heavy machinery by farmers and mortgaging the agricultural land to banks or financial institutions to apply for loans. This will hinder farmers’ hope to obtain more funds for the purpose of industrial and technological upgrading.

These terms are undoubtedly counterproductive as compared to the visions encapsulated in our national agricultural transformation and modernisation policies.

The agriculture sector in the 21st Century is facing increasingly insurmountable challenges. Furthermore, at present, the world is also facing the economic and food crisis as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, our country is facing a lot of problems in agriculture, such as outdated agricultural infrastructure, incomplete production systems, low quality and efficiency, as well as the lack of capability to guarantee food security.

Therefore, the Pahang state government should enhance its cooperation with industry players in order to promote policy coordination, market integration, investment growth as well as agricultural transformation and upgrading, rather than “rob” the farmers in the midst of their hardship and undermine Malaysia's food production chain.

CHIONG YOKE KONG is the Tanah Rata assemblyperson and deputy chairperson of DAP Socialist Youth.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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