A Shattered Dream

Chapter 2

Bad Encounters With Fruit Farmers

Pg 1
Preliminary works

Replanting works started when all legal matters were resolved and the 20% undivided shares of the two minor co-owners were transferred to my holding company, Astoh Realty Sdn. Bhd.

In January 2001, the contract for felling, extracting of rubber timber and clearing of land was awarded to a local furniture company which paid the land owners RM130,000 for about 85 acres of land planted with rubber trees.

The clearing of oil palm trees (about 25 acres) and drainage works were carried out by another local contractor.

Young oil palm seedlings (Guthrie Chamara clone) were ordered from a nursery in Muar in early 2001.

After mid 2001 the land was cleared and ready for planting. Planting of seedlings was carried out after the field was pegged and was completed in September.

Licence for cultivation of fruits

It was a normal practice around Pagoh then for landowners, who were replanting their lands with oil palms, to give a free 3-year license to fruit farmers to cultivate fruits, like water melons, papayas and bananas. The rationale was that the oil palm trees would take at least three years to bear fruits and, during that period, the landowners would have to spend a considerable amount of money out of their own pockets to fertilise the young plants and to maintain their plantations free of weeds. By giving a licence to farmers to cultivate fruits, the landowners would not have to take care of weeding. Also, because the farmers needed to apply a lot of fertilisers to enhance the yield of their fruit crops, the landowner would require only little fertilisers to be added to the young oil palm trees.

Along the road to my plantation there was a plot of land planted with oil palms about a year earlier and I learned that a licence was given to a farmer in Pagoh to cultivate watermelons and bananas. I visited this plantation a number of times and met the landowner and one of the farmer's supervisors. They would give me some watermelons if they were harvesting the fruits. I was impressed not only the melons were juicy and sweet but also the plantation was clean and tidy. The plantation owner and the fruit farmer seemed happy and satisfied. I was then truly convinced that it was a right move to give a licence to a fruit farmer to cultivate fruits in our plantation.

A number of farmers around Pagoh were interested in cultivating fruits in my plantation, amongst them were the farmer I met earlier (Farmer Goh) and one from Batu 23 who was a relative of my supervisor (Farmer Hong). With the agreement of my second and I, Farmer Goh would cultivate watermelons and bananas in about 2/3 of the plantation and the balance of the area would be used to grow papayas and bananas by Farmer Hong. A licence agreement was drawn up and signed by the landowners and the two farmers in July 2001. The agreement was for three years commencing on 1st August 2001 and expiring on 31st July 2004 with an extension of six months for the farmers to complete the harvest of their crops and to clear the land and make good the areas affected.

Bad Times with Farmer Goh

Farmer Goh was a young man in his late 20s and his father was one of the more successful businessmen in Pagoh. He was also a successful collector of fruits in the region. He owned a warehouse in Pagoh with a fleet of lorries collecting fruits, like watermelons, papayas and bananas from almost all the farmers in the surrounding areas. He would sort and repack them and distribute them to Kuala Lumpur and/or export them to Singapore and Hong Kong. He had a work force of over a hundred, mainly foreign workers; a big scale operation in a cowboy town!

He started well with the cultivation of watermelons in my plantation.

He had two supervisors; one appeared to be a Tai Ko in Pagah who once told me that every one in Pagoh knew who he was. But when I asked him whether that included all the illegal foreign workers in Pagoh, he shut his mouth and never brought up the subject again. The farmer had more than 20 legal Indonesian workers stationed in my plantation. His father told me that with the license agreement, his son was able to obtain permits to employ over 100 Indonesia workers! But when the melon plants were blooming, the farmer would temporarily employ additional 100 orang asli from the jungles nearby to cross-pollinate the melon flowers!

The ground was first ploughed to remove all remaining rubber trees roots and later two planting rows were formed in between two rows of oil palm trees. Each planting row was covered with a layer of black plastic sheet punctuated with small holes at about a meter apart. The melon seeds were germinated in the shade and the seedlings were then transplanted to the ground through the holes in the plastic sheets. The plastic sheets were used so as to prevent the growth of weeds in the planting rows, a good strategy at first thought.

For irrigation, a system of pipe network was constructed to supply water to all the planting rows. Water for the irrigation was obtained from the Muar River nearby. A pump was installed by the riverside in Kg. Renchong and connected by a pipe through the Kampung and crossed the road to reach my plantation. The JKR Muar insisted that no digging was allowed to lay pipes crossing public roads. The farmer was at the loss of what to do. I knew he tried to get around it but was not successful. As a last resort he asked me for help which I did.

The JKR Johor was insistent that its policies should be strictly adhered to. With that I had no choice but to engage a pipe-jacking contractor from KL to do the job and the farmer gladly paid for it. Imagine, carrying out pipe jacking, a relatively new technology, in a rural area!

To enhance the growth, the farmer used chicken droppings and compound fertilisers. Not much of herbicide was used as the ground was quickly covered with melon creepers. Soon the flowers appeared and then the fruits began to form and grow. To protect the growing fruits from attack by insects and other pests, pesticides were used. The first harvest, about four months after planting, was a bumper one and the farmer was delighted. For the first time I enjoyed the fruits grown in my plantation.


The entire operation seemed satisfactory and I was happy in that the farmer had acted quite professionally in his work

But after two harvests I began to realise that some of the works performed by the farmer could post a threat to the environment and the health of workers and the nearby residents. Also the melons produced might be coated with excessive pesticide.

The black plastic sheets covering the planting rows had to be replaced after each harvest. So the amount of plastic wastes generated was tremendous. I would accept if the farmer were to collect them for satisfactory disposal somewhere else. But no, his workers would just bundle then into rows and dispose them around the young and growing palm trees. My only hope was that they would remove them after the expiry of the licence agreement.

Also, the farmer was using pesticide excessively and indiscriminately. One morning at about 10am, I arrived at my plantation and immediately my eyes were smarting and my nose running. I was told that the farmer was giving a thick spray of pesticide to the melons, which he would harvest the next day. The rationale was that the layer of pesticide would protect the watermelons from being attacked by insects and other pests so that they would remain fresh while on transit to their final destination, i.e. the homes of consumers!

I left the plantation immediately, and from that day onwards I have refrained from eating any more watermelon, either from my plantation or from elsewhere. And I have tried to remind all my friends who love to eat melons to soak them in running water before cutting them and eating only the innermost portion leaving a thick outer layer to be discarded.

In early 2003, Farmer Goh seemed to have absconded after one not so successful harvest, allowing weeds to propagate and leaving the workers and machinery idling. After enquiry, I was told that he was out of town but no body knew where he was or when he would be back.


In March 2003 I sent him a lawyer's letter threatening to determine the agreement. Shortly, the bulldozers were back clearing and ploughing the land. But I noticed that a different set of people was seen organising the work in the field. Upon checking I was informed that Farmer Goh had sublet the cultivation of watermelons to another farmer (Farmer Tan) from a nearby village. With the help of another farmer I managed to confront Farmer Tan in a coffeeshop in town one day. This farmer was adamant and said that he was appointed by Farmer Goh to manage the cultivation of fruits and had every right to be in my plantation! And he said he was going ahead with planting sweet potatoes instead of watermelons.

I bluntly told him that as the owner of the plantation, I had the choice of who I wanted to be present in my plantation and told him point-blank that he was not welcome. Furthermore I told him that under the existing agreement, sweet potatoes were not the fruit to be cultivated in our plantation. I warned him that if he continued to be present in my plantation I would report to police that he was trespassing my property. I left it at that, walked out of the coffee shop and returned to our plantation.

Soon afterwards, I received a phone call from Farmer Goh who asked me to consider allowing Farmer Tan to go ahead with planting sweet potatoes in my plantation. He also told me that some financial transactions had been concluded with Farmer Tan, and if the latter were not allowed to proceed, he would have to compensate him for ploughing the land and for the fertilsers (chicken droppings) brought to the plantation. I emphatically told him that he was not allowed to sublease the licence to a third party and as for compensation; I told him that I might consider and he was to let me know the amount.

After a few negotiations over the phone, I agreed to compensate Farmer Goh RM12,000 but he had to remove all pipe networks installed and all rubbish including all plastics brought on to the plantation. I drew up a letter to mutually terminate the licence agreement compensating him RM10,000 with a retention of RM2,000 which would only be released to him upon satisfactory clearing the area of all rubbish etc within two weeks.

On 17th April 2003 I was in my plantation early, ready with the cheques and letter to meet Farmer Goh. He called and said he was in Muar and so I told him to meet me at my lawyer's office in Jalan Majidi, which is near Muar Police Station. But he called later to tell me that he wanted to meet me in my plantation. I agreed and told him to meet at the small Malay food stall across the road.

A couple of farmers near me heard about my meeting and suggested that I made a police report and asked for police protection. As payment would not be made in cash, I was not worried that I would be robbed. So instead I told them to bring along a couple of villagers to the stall to make the crowd. At the appointed time, I wore a kukery and walked to the stall which by then had about half a dozen people hanging around. Soon a Proton car arrived with three young people inside including Farmer Goh. I stood up to greet him and to make it obvious to them that I was armed! The farmer sat at my table and the other two at another table under the tree. They did not look rough and tough and so every body around was at ease.

I wasted no time in explaining to Farmer Goh in Hokkien the letter I had prepared and he agreed to all the terms contained therein. We signed the letter which was witnessed by my site supervisor and I handed him a cheque for RM10,000 made in his name. The RM2,000 retention money was handed in cash to Farmer Hong in custody with the instruction that it should only be released to the farmer after the satisfactory clearing of the site within two weeks and with my approval.

The whole ceremony was over in less than half an hour and Farmer Goh was generous enough to pay for all the drinks.

Soon after, the Farmer Tan, who wanted to plant sweet potatoes in my plantation, and his workers, were in my plantation, removing all abandoned equipment and machinery and digging the ground to remove pipes and fittings. However, after a week or so, the workers left after they had got what they wanted but left all rubbish and plastic wastes behind. Two weeks had lapsed and there was no sign that the remaining rubbish would be removed. I subsequently wrote to Farmer Goh to inform him of the situation and forfeited the RM2,000 retention money.


 Wastes littered all over

At the start of this episode when Farmer Goh first absconded from my plantation in March 2003, there were rumors in Pagoh that the farmer was in debt due to gambling and was detained by Ah Longs. He was kept in secret hideouts and at all times he was accompanied by at least one representative of the Ah Longs. His duties were mainly to liquid his business and dispose off all his assets. It was said that he even managed to mortgage a property to a bank jointly owned with his father who later disowned him. It was obvious that whatever proceeds Farmer Goh obtained by the liquidation of his assets would directly go to payments of debts, including the RM10,000 compensation I paid him. Everybody I spoke to in Pagoh felt sorry for the promising young man who had gained some respect in Pagoh for his business accruements. But I still think his downfall was attributed to his lack of education and exposure to the real business world and a complete lack of recreational facilities and social activities in Pagoh.

So after I had got rid of Farmer Goh, I thought that was the end of the episode.

But no, on 16th May 2003, my office in Shah Alam received a call from a man called "Jimmy" who told Helen, the admin staff, that I owed Farmer Goh money and if I didn't settle it immediately, they would have to deal with me in our plantation in Pagoh! The whole office was panic stricken but I told Helen to tell "Jimmy", if he called again, to telephone me in the office at 10am the next morning.

As expected, "Jimmy" called the next morning and told me that I owed Farmer Goh RM2,000. I explained to "Jimmy" the whole story and told him that I had all the documents to show that I owed Farmer Goh nothing. After a couple of minutes of consultation between "Jimmy" and Farmer Goh, it then dawned upon the former that his accusation that I owed Farmer Goh money was totally uncalled for. But "Jimmy" contended that, as they had come all the way from Pagoh and stayed in KL for a couple of nights, I should try to defray some of their expenses. I wanted to tell them to get stuffed but on second thought, I also wanted them to know that I wasn't one that was devoid of feeling or one that could easily be cowed. So I told "Jimmy" to come to my office by 12 noon and I would try to help wherever I could.

While waiting for "Jimmy" and Farmer Goh to come, I got ready an amount of RM1,000 in cash and prepared a letter for Farmer Goh to acknowledge that with this payment he had no right to further claim and his presence in my plantation would not be welcome. I also instructed all the four technicians on the ground floor to come upstairs and a couple of female staff on the first floor office to go downstairs when “Jimmy” and Farmer Goh arrived.

At about 12.30pm they came. “Jimmy” was in his twenties and did not look like a rough and tough guy; while Farmer Goh looked depressed and weak. We sat on a small round table, which was surrounded by the four technicians and my nephew. With all my relevant documents I showed and proved to them that I owed Farmer Goh nothing. “Jimmy” was convinced and told Farmer Goh that “Uncle Toh” was right! Nevertheless I shoved the cash in front of Farmer Goh and told him to take it or leave it. If he were to take it, he had to sign the acknowledgement letter and get lost. But if he chose otherwise he and “Jimmy” would not be able to leave my office because all exits had been locked and I would have to call the police. Without hesitation Farmer Goh accepted the cash and signed the letter, which was witnessed by “Jimmy”.

They wasted no time in leaving my office. That was the last time I saw Farmer Goh and hopefully this would spell the end of one of my sad episodes.

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