CAMERON HIGHLANDS, March 31 — Kuala Terla smallholders whose farms were closed down by the Pahang state government last month have lost their source of income, besides having to repay loans with financial institutions.
According to Leong Ngan Kong, 70, when the 0.8-hectare cherry and tomato plantation that he had been cultivating for the past 50 years, was closed down by the Cameron Highlands District and Land Office within seven days of issuing a notice, there was nothing he could do.
“We have not had a chance to hold a hearing or appeal, nor did we receive any compensation or new land for farming, so I appeal to the government to consider our fate,” he said, adding he had lost RM500,000 due to the closure.
Leong was among more than 300 Kuala Terla farmers who attended the protest against the state government which had taken enforcement measures to close 11 farms, with another 50 to face the same fate, as the farms were said to be polluting Sungai Terla.
S. Sarvanan, 39, said he was also at a loss as the orchard which was cultivated by his father since 50 years ago was suddenly shut down, while he still needed to repay an RM4 million bank loan.
Peh Kok Moi, 50, said she may have to forget sending her child to study overseas following the closure of her vegetable farm.
“My child’s dream of studying abroad has to be cancelled, because I do not have enough savings to cover the costs,” she said, echoing the calls of the other smallholders for the Federal government to intervene and the state government to have mercy.
Deputy Chief Minister of Penang II P.Ramasamy, who was also present during the two-hour solidarity meet which began at 3pm said the plantation area where enforcement action has been taken is about 55 hectares, incurring RM1 billion in losses.
Ramasamy in a press conference later said that the cost for farmers to operate a farm was estimated to be between RM500,000 to RM1 million, and they had mostly obtained those funds from financial institutions in the form of loans.
He then urged for enforcement action against more than 50 remaining farms to be discontinued immediately, while for the 11 which had been closed down to be relocated or compensated.
He also informed that several Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders would meet with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah over the matter at the Istana Negara.
Meanwhile, a resident known as Shahril, who is his 30s said that there was indeed a pollution in Sungai Terla.
“When the river was polluted, we as residents were worried about the cleanliness of the water we used, even though it had been treated, and although not all, there are some farmers who dispose of plastic materials into the river.
Salmah Hassan, 74, who has settled in Kampung Raja here for 60 years said she supported the state government’s action as there were illegal farmers who had caused the water at Sungai Terla to be polluted.
The first phase of the enforcement action against 11 farms was implemented from February 25 to mid-March, while the second phase which involves over 50 farms, will begin April 1.
Meanwhile, Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail said the state government needed to take such drastic measures to ensure the sustainability of treated water for the needs of about 70 per cent of Cameron Highlands residents.
“Although the water source obtained from the Kuala Terla Water Treatment Plant comes from Sungai Terla, Sungai Ichat is also located in the Terla water catchment area that includes the forest reserves.
“Both of these rivers are supposed to be sources of raw water to be treated.
However, only Sungai Terla was used so far as Sungai Ichat was severely polluted, exacerbated by illegal farming on both sides of the riverbank.
“The raw water source from Sungai Terla is also found to be diminishing, and it is feared that this could lead to a critical shortage of raw water supply in the future, which makes Sungai Ichat an even more important source,” he said.
Commenting on allegations that between 250 and 300 families were affected by the enforcement actions, Wan Rosdy said farming in the area began almost 30 years ago with the first Temporary Occupation License (TOL) issued in 1993.
“Nevertheless, only 50 TOLs in the name of the heads of the family were issued, but the reality is for each TOL issued, there was more than one person, including children and other relatives who worked on the piece of land.
“It has also been made to look like the TOL has been approved for decades before being stopped in 2017, while the validity of the TOL is only a year and it must be renewed every year, which has been the practice since the first TOL was issued,” he said.
Wan Rosdy added that it was only in 2017 that the state government had not issued TOLs due to violations of certain conditions such as building permanent structures such as workers’ quarters as well as not meeting the conditions of farms located in the water catchment area to identify specific locations for garbage disposal.
The TOL also requires farmers to build silt traps, which are based on specific guidelines for the cultivation of vegetables and fruits in sensitive highland areas, but there were farmers who did not follow them in order to cut costs.
“The Department of Agriculture has also only sanctioned the use of certain pesticides and their methods of use, but there are smallholders who may want to reduce costs by using smuggled pesticides or poisons used only for agriculture in lowland areas,” he said. — Bernama