By Red Fox
The recent enforcement by the Pahang Forestry Department in Batu Talam made headlines not only in major publications but also has turned into a heated debate in the internet sphere.
Let’s look at the issue with logical sense and not caught up in emotional sympathy.
What many have overlooked is the fact that the 250 acres of illegal durian farms were planted in a permanent forest reserve that was illegally cleared of valuable forest trees to balance mother nature ecosystem.
Our forest has been raped by these illegal farmers in question, who are in reality the runners to the taikor 'owner' who is an active member of a political party instigating the illegal farmers to protest.
The earnings for this plantation at current prices are more than RM20 million per harvest season (250 acres x 40 trees/acre x 40 fruits/tree x 2kg/fruit x RM30/kg).
Shouldn’t one wonder if the term ‘poor farmers’ is fitting when they have gained so much?
The pictures we see in recent days at the enforcement site shows big mature durian trees.
While it is a fact that a durian tree takes a minimum of 6 years to be harvested and the need to toil the land over the years, as they have themselves admitted they have been planting these trees on the claimed ‘promised land’ for the past 20 years.
From 6 years onwards the trees keep fruiting every year!
RM20 million for 14 years, how much tax and land assessment these "poor " farmers have paid in the last 14 years?
The illegal durian farms in Batu Talam Forest Reserve in question (currently enforced) had nothing to do with the court order and the dispute in Raub which the Menteri Besar and the Forestry Department has clarified and affirmed. But it seems to fall on deaf ears.
So, why now, you may ask?
Should we not start asking why not now?
The durian craze and the huge market in China has resulted in illegal plantations doubling in the last 5 years than over the preceding 20 years.
This has resulted in huge environmental and sustainability issues. Do we want another Cameron Highlands incident to recur?
The State government has learned a hard lesson from the Cameron Highlands incident. Certainly, no sane government would want to see that happening again which will destroy the people’s lives and livelihoods which will also have a domino effect to the country’s economy.
There is also the not so talked about issue of Good Agricultural practices.
If these farmers don't care two hoots about forest reserves and the law, what makes you think they will adopt proper agriculture practices to ensure that the industry is sustainable?
The fruits originating from these illegal farms do not have MyGAP certifications. How does it get to the export market one wonders? What if the authorities overseas find out?
Kindly not be blinded by all their emotional sympathetic claims.
Rampant use of pesticides and inorganic fertilisers will become the norm for fast financial gains.
Already, they are planting the durian trees haphazardly for big yields with no consideration for the soil and land to heal. From 30 trees/acres with a distance of minimum 6 metres apart, they are planting nearly 45 trees per acre with just 3 metres apart!
While there is no denying the state's enforcement authorities have been lax over the years, should the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to illegal felling of forest land and indirectly encourage further encroachment, waiting for the soil to erode?
When is the right time then? Wait till pandemic is over? How many of us has a certainty today when the pandemic is over? Wait till the next harvest and next protest?
Enough is enough! We have to tell them to stop just as how we need to tell rapist to stop and if they don’t heed, we put them in jail and cut them off their habits!
The State needs to come up with a holistic humane solution. Whether it is through the proposals by well-connected personalities as in Raub is another matter.
Importantly the State must study each proposal carefully to salvage the industry.
It’s not as simple as renting the land to the farmers and that’s it.
There must be agricultural practice, environmental and produce controls put in place.
Hence a holistic approach is required. Likewise, the entire durian supply chain must also be transformed. Ensure that transactions are recorded from farm to factory to market.
When there are mechanisms of traceability, there is accountability. Where there is accountability, there is adherence to rules and regulations in every aspect as opposed to quietly planting illegally in forest reserves.
Alas, hope this is not too much to ask and expect from this Government to do anything for the people who are really in need, not political cronies from both political divides.
Let’s keep our sanity!