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Commodities prosper the rakyat

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By Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong

Puan Meriah Abdul Hadi and her herd of goats. Pix by Berita Harian.

PUAN Meriah Abdul Hadi lives with her daughter and son-in-law in Tangkak, Johor. For local travellers, this growing town is well-known as Syurga Kain (“Fabric Town”) in the 1970s and 80s, as well as a gateway to the mystical Gunung Ledang or Mount Ophir.

Like many of her fellow residents, Puan Meriah’s life revolves around the farming of oil palm, which along with fruit orchards, rubber and more recently swiftlet farming, form the main agriculture-based activities there.

Puan Meriah tills her five-acre land to make a modest living. In late 2016, she became the first recipient of the Livestock Integration Incentive Scheme, a supplementary initiative under the Palm Oil National Key Economic Area (NKEA) specifically for independent smallholders to generate extra income and improve their livelihoods further.

Under the 11th Malaysia Plan, RM29mil was allocated for livestock integration, with a further RM19mil earmarked for crop integration.

Smallholders benefit from planting grants

In fact, the mainstay of the Palm Oil and Rubber NKEA upstream initiatives have been the replanting and new planting assistance for independent smallholders.

From 2011 to 2016, we successfully implemented the schemes across 319,340ha nationwide. That is 4.4 times the size of Singapore.

Under the 10th Malaysia Plan, the Govern­ment disbursed RM1.804bil for oil palm and rubber planting. To ensure the continuity of planting efforts under the 11th Malaysia Plan, the Government has further budgeted RM2.231bil for oil palm and rubber planting.

The Government takes the issue of replanting very seriously because it is important to ensure sustainable income for smallholders.

At the recent national-level Felda Settlers Day 2017 celebration, the Prime Minister gave settlers plenty to cheer about with the announcement of six incentives, including the establishment of a special replanting grant for Felda to be administered by the Malaysia Palm Oil Board at the rate of RM7,500 per hectare starting this year up to 2020. This involves an area of 24,280.31 ha, with a RM166.6mil allocation over the four-year period.

Many smallholders in Sabah and Sarawak also received new planting aid for pepper and cocoa. Under the 10th Malaysia Plan, RM43.9mil was allocated to planting and rehabilitating 4,984 ha and benefiting 33,068 farmers, mainly in Sarawak. This support continues under the 11th Malaysia Plan with RM39mil allocated to cover 1,500ha and benefit 7,500 planters.

Smallholders in Sabah are the main recipients of cocoa new planting grants amounting to RM57.2mil for 7,567ha and benefiting 7,849 planters under the 10th Malaysia Plan. For the 11th Malaysia Plan, RM12.8mil has been allocated to plant 1,600ha for 1,600 planters.

Not to be forgotten are our smallholders in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, who have benefited greatly from the Government’s support in developing kenaf farming, initially as a substitute for tobacco farming.

As of 2016, the total planted area has reached 2,503ha, with 88% of land area located in those three states.

Lifeblood of the rakyat and economy

The welfare of the rakyat, especially smallholders such as Puan Meriah, is closely intertwined with the fortune of commodities.

The mood for Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali is always merrier in the kampungs when commodity prices are as buoyant as they are now. This is a sentiment city folk may not necessarily appreciate.

Palm oil and rubber are two of our key commodities, which in sum are very sizeable in footprint terms. As of 2016, the combined area planted with palm oil, rubber, cocoa, pepper, kenaf and sago is 6,910,773ha, accounting for 63% of agriculture land and about 21% of Malaysia’s land mass.

Palm oil alone accounts for 5,737,985ha, which is 52.5% of agriculture land and about 17.4% of our Malaysia’s land mass.

Smallholders, both independent and organised under Felda, Felcra and Risda, work on 2,735,850ha or 39.6% of plantation land with the rest being held by estates and large plantations. Palm oil alone counts 644,522 as smallholders.

In terms of export value, these crops contributed RM122bil or almost 11% of the country’s GDP. Palm oil contributed the lion share of RM67.6bil or about 6.1% of the GDP.

In the recent second-quarter 2017 GDP, palm oil and rubber grew by 12.1% and 17.0% respectively, boosting the overall agriculture sector growth to 5.9%.

The commodities sector is the main engine of growth for the Malaysian economy and is also helping rural areas achieve greater economy parity with urban areas. Being from the lower income group, they deserve and continue to receive the Govern­ment’s attention.

Helping smallholders realise the true meaning of independence

Born and bred in Teluk Intan, I am well acquainted with the commodities sector as my parliamentary constituency is home to primarily palm oil cultivation and production, including those by plantation giants Sime Darby and United Plantations, as well as smaller estates and smallholdings. Hence, commodities are very close to my heart.

There is still much more we can do to uplift the quality of life – through improvement of income in an inclusive and sustainable manner – of our smallholders.

From the original herd of two male and 20 female goats provided, Puan Meriah happily acts as an animal mid-wife these days, personally delivering new kids once a week and caring for new additions to the herd. From the sale of milk and meat, she generates extra income and this elevates her economic standing.

As we celebrate our 60th National Day, I take comfort that the Government’s inclusive effort brings to life the true meaning of independence for everyday Malaysians such as Puan Meriah. Happy 60th National Day to all Malaysians.

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