IPOH, Oct 28 — Farming in Kanthan, Tambun here is all that Liew Wong has ever known to make end meets.
But on Tuesday, the 57-year-old was left devastated after his 1.012 hectares of oil palm trees were bulldozed by the Perak State Land and Mines Office (PTG) to evict the farmers from their land.
While Liew has yet to calculate how much his losses were, he is already certain of one thing: the RM2,000 monthly he used to earn from selling the oil palms was now gone.
“I’m clueless on what to do now. Forget about starting over, I’m not sure how I’m going to survive the next month and the months after,” he told Malay Mail when met at his farm.
Liew said oil palm is not like vegetable cultivation as it takes three to five years for the trees to grow and produce proper fruits.
“If I want to start back, I need another three years for the tree to grow again. What am I going to do until then? How am I going to pay the bills?” he asked.
Liew is among six farmers from the Kanthan area who were served with the eviction notice by the PTG on October 13.
On Tuesday, dozens of PTG officials mobilised to forcibly evict the farmers with bulldozers and excavators.
The incident caught public attention after four activists from the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), including party chairman Dr Michael Jeyakumar, were arrested by the police when trying to stop the PTG officers from entering the area.
The four were released on police bail later the same day.
The Tuesday incident was the latest flare-up in the eviction battle raging over Kanthan where the Perak government is seeking to evict the farmers to make way for the Silver Valley Technology Park (SVTP).
Those such as Liew are resisting the attempts, arguing that their families have been working the farms for generations.
In Liew’s case, he said the land has been farmed by his grandparents and his father before him for about 80 years now.
“All this while there was no problem, suddenly the PTG issued a seven-day eviction notice and decided to destroy our farm,” he said.
Liew said that he has tried applied to lease the land from the state government since in 2011, but said that he did not receive proper response from the authorities.
“We are ready to pay rent for this land and applied for leasing for about 10 to 15 years, but there was no proper answer,” he said.
Khoo Choong Hing, 49, who has been farming choy sum, peanuts, spinach, and cucumbers, alleged the PTG officers drove over his crops with bulldozer and ignored pleas for them to stop.
“The choy sum vegetable is ready for harvest but they (PTG) have destroyed it.
“But what worst is that they have damaged the piping system around my 3.642 hectares of farming land. For one hectare it took about RM20,000 for the piping system to be build.
“The total amount of losses I suffered due to this incident is around RM300,000,” he said.
Khoo, who has been farming for about 20 years on the land, hopes that those responsible will compensate the farmers for their losses.
“We have managed to get an interim stay for the eviction, but who is going to bear the cost for this damage? Starting over will take thousands of ringgit and it will take months to set up everything again,” said Khoo, who earns about RM3,000 per month from his farming business.
On Thursday, the Ipoh High Court granted an interim stay of all eviction proceedings taken by the Kinta district land office and the State Development Corporation (SDC) against the six farmers in Kanthan pending their application for judicial review of the move.
Following the controversy at the protest, the Perak Menteri Besar’s Office denied the farmers were being forcibly evicted and insisted their removal was being carried out according to the law.
It added that the eviction was the result of the alleged refusal of the farmers to take up an offer to relocate to Changkat Kinding.
Farmer Liew Yoke Chun, 57, who has been cultivating watermelon and oil palm, said that the land offered by the state government is not suitable for all vegetables and fruits.
“The land is on a hill and the soil is filled with rocks. The earth is not suitable for vegetable or fruit farming,” he said.
Yoke Chun, who also faced similar fate as Liew Wong, said that he lost about five tonnes of oil palm fruits after they were destroyed by the PTG officers.
“Cleaning up this land to start over again will cost me thousands of ringgit. I have to hire a lorry to remove all the debris from the trees and have to cultivate the land again,” he said.
Yoke Chun, who still has two children in school, said that he used to make about RM3,000 per month or less depending on the season.
He also said that he has no intention of moving away from the land as his parents and grandparents have been living here since before Merdeka.
“My current house is also located near to this farm. Moving somewhere else will only add additional cost for travelling. We are just small scale farmers and we don’t earn big money, every penny counts for us,” he said.
Tan Yeong Seng, 49, said that his 0.40 hectare corn farm was destroyed during the eviction process.
“They have also damaged the piping system for the plants and demolished the store room in the farm.
“I have suffered losses about RM8,000 to RM10,000 in total,” he said.
Tan, who has been supplying his corn to places like Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands and Ipoh, said that the seven-day notice was irrational as none of the farmers would be able to harvest their crops in time, let alone move out.
There are more than 130 small scale farmers located in the area around Kanthan and they have been farming for about 80 years since the days of their parents and grandparents.
Farmers there are dealing with uncertainty as they could also face the same fate as the six being evicted if the state government decides to take possession of the land in the near future.
PSM secretary-general A. Sivarajan has urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to intervene in the matter, saying the matter was of direct concern to the latter who was the elected representative of Tambun and the farmers his constituents.