Thousands of Sabah poor rail against expansion of mega shrimp project

Mastupang (second from left) is one of 2,500 villagers from Pitas, objecting to the expansion of a controversial shrimp park which they claimed has had adverse effects on the villager’s source of income and livelihood. — Picture by Julia Chan
Mastupang (second from left) is one of 2,500 villagers from Pitas, objecting to the expansion of a controversial shrimp park which they claimed has had adverse effects on the villager’s source of income and livelihood. — Picture by Julia Chan

KOTA KINABALU, April 27 — Some 2,500 villagers from the poverty-stricken district of Pitas in northern Sabah lashed out today against plans by a firm to expand a shrimp park near their homes, fearing the project would take away another 1,000 acres of mangrove land that they are dependent on.

A committee formed by six villages in the Pitas region led by native Mastupang Somoi said that the shrimp farm which was built in 2014 over 2,300 acres has significantly depleted resources and affected the livelihood of subsistence farmers and fishermen in the area.

“We now have remaining about 1,000 acres of mangrove land which has a sensitive biosystem and hold our livelihood as well as traditional practises like traditional medicine, building materials and sacred sites.

“We are concerned that any further expansion of the farm into this land will permanently and completely destroy our source of income and livelihood on the very ground that we have lived on for eight generations now,” Mastupang told a press conference at the Sabah Environmental Protection Association office here today.

He represents some 2,500 villagers from Kampung Telaga, Kampung Gumpa, Kampung Ungkup, Kampung Boluuh Skim, Kampung Datong and Kampung Sungai Eloi, which are made up mostly of hardcore poor families of Dusun, Rungus, Sungai and Tombonuo descent.

The group claimed they have over the last three years repeatedly complained to the authorities about their loss of livelihood and the ecological effects of the shrimp project but received little or no response.

Local media in Sabah previously reported that the company operating aquaculture park, Sunlight Inno Seafood Sdn Bhd, was slapped with two RM30,000 compounds and stop-work orders last year after it clear-felled the area without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

Mastupang, who travelled overnight to the capital city with 10 other villagers specifically for today’s press conference, said that prior to the launch of the project, the villagers were promised socio-economic benefits such as job opportunities, roads, water and electricity supply.

The RM1.23 billion project, known as the Pitas Shrimp Park, was launched by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman who said it was aimed at helping the rural poor and would create 3,000 jobs.

Mastupang claimed, however, that the company has employed less than 30 people from the local community and has a very high staff turnover rate.

The project is a joint venture between Yayasan Sabah’s Inno-Fisheries Sdn Bhd and Sun­light Seafood (Sabah) Sdn Bhd.

The group of villagers today urged the authorities to look into the proposal for the project’s expansion and ensure that it follows all necessary environmental guidelines and that it would not affect their source of income and food.

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