This year, the class reunion was held in Cameron Highland. The crowd of fifty people was much smaller as compared to the last year’s reunion in Malacca. The hassle of transportation somehow deterred many from coming. It took me 3 ½ hours travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Tanah Rata in Cameron Highlands through Simpang Pulai. When I came down at night through the old road to Tapah, it also took me 3 ½ hours.
It is nice to meet your university mates once a year. The sad thing is every time we meet, we notice that every one of us is aging. We are more toned down in our celebration. I noticed some of us have slowed down in our movement and response. Conversation becomes less lively. Every year, God seems to have taken one of our classmates from this part of the world. As we grow older, this seems to be inevitable.
I had lunch with a group of farmers in Cameron Highlands. They were very upset that they have no security to the land tenure. Because of the insecurity of the land tenure, they are unable to commit more investments in their farm. This is of course a chicken and egg situation. Most of the farming are done on highlands, some of which obviously are unstable in the long term, causing erosion and possibility of landslide. However, the state government in not resolving the issue or taking the bull by the horn will only serve to perpetuate the problem. It has also engendered a lot of frustration and mistrust to the state government. This may explain why an independent candidate won the state seat in the 308 election. Somehow the farmers feel that supporting the opposition may help to provoke the state government into action. Meanwhile, they have met some state and central MCA leaders in the hope to resolve the land tenure problem.
Today, I read in the papers that Cameron Highlands’ 52 farmers produced a staggering of RM70million worth of fresh strawberries a year involving 30ha of land. They also produced RM18million worth of strawberries product, such as jam etc. This is highly commendable and high value-added cultivation. If we want agriculture to be an important source of revenue, then we should promote high value added cultivation. Cameron Highlands’ farmers can be a good example.
The state government should seriously look into the land problem faced by the farmers. I am given to understand that about more than about 1000 farmers are involved. Most of the cultivation is about 1 to 2 ha. In the course of my conversation, they admitted that most of them are doing well and their products are mostly exported directly to Singapore, with some for the local market.
The state government should be pragmatic in resolving this issue. It has a duty to protect the rather fragile ecosystem of a highland area. Any over development including cultivation will destroy the beauty of Cameron Highlands. However, it has to take into consideration the livelihood of more than 1000 farmers in this area. In no way can the state government ignore their plight. Politically, it will be suicidal not to do anything. Presently, the state government is not receiving any revenue despite the land being cultivated by the farmers. The farmers are willing to pay as long as there is security to the land tenure. It is a problem that requires political solution. The environmentalist may be disturbed by the over cultivation. However, there is a need to strike a balance between the needs of the farmers and also the necessity of protecting the environment.
I have promised that I will meet them again if the problem is still not resolved after 6 months. I will not say that it is easy to resolve land problem, but if there is political will and give and take from both the government and the farmers, the problem can be resolved. We have to strike a win-win situation for all parties.