Herculean task for farmers to change their mindset


Our Prime Minister had, on Dec 6, 2006, advised farmers to change their mindset and shed their ‘poor’ stigma.

I fully support the Prime Minister’s call. But from my recent experience with a couple of fruit farmers, it is going to be a Herculean task.

When I started oil-palm replanting in my plantation in Pagoh, Johor about five years ago, I gave two free 3-year licenses to two fruit farmers in a nearby village to cultivate fruits, like water melons, papayas and bananas. The rationale was that the newly planted 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 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 need to apply a lot of fertilisers to enhance the yield of their fruit crops, the landowners would require little additional amount of fertilisers to be added to the young oil palm trees.
Farmer Bong, not his real name, was a small time fruit farmer planting papayas and bananas under licence in other people’s plantations near his village. He engaged four undocumented Indonesia workers to work in my plantation.

Under the Licence Agreement, only two rows of fruit plants are allowed to grow between two rows of oil-palm trees. As the distance between two rows of palm trees is about 25ft, it is to be expected that the fruit plants would be planted not closer than 8ft from the oil palm trees.

But no, though only two rows of papaya trees were planted, many were closer to the palm trees than expected. And three rows of the fruit trees were planted in the area reserved for bananas! When Farmer Bong was told about this, his reply was that the fruit trees were planted by his workers and that all other farmers were doing the same! I warned him that, without any notice to him, I would chop down any fruit trees, which I found to be obstructing the growth of the oil-palm trees.

I did not proceed with what I threatened to do, hoping that the farmer would repent and do what was necessary. But no, he still insisted that he did no wrong.

So, whenever I was in the plantation, I would go around with a can of red Aerosol paint and spray the fruit plants that were planted too close to the palm trees.

After this was done I served Farmer Bong a notice to remove all the fruit plants which I had sprayed with red paint. In spite of all these, Farmer Bong refused to barge and told me that he was not making money from what he was doing in my plantation! He sounded as if I owed him a living!

From then onwards, I would go round the plantation with a kukeri and chop down, without any qualms, the fruit plants that I had painted.     

I did all these not because I had no feeling for the poor farmer. After all, I was one in my teens and my family had never once taken advantage of anybody in those days. We were poor but we were not mean and did not blame anybody for our poverty!

But I did it because I owed the defiant farmer nothing, nothing at all. I was also disgusted to see that during good seasons; a lot of papayas were left to rod, up on top of the trees, on the ground and in the drains. Why did he plant so many trees if the market for the produce was so limited? I absolutely felt no guilt at all in cutting down some of the plants!

For the birds
Left to rot

On expiry of the Licence Agreement, Farmer Bong requested an extension of two months to enable him to complete harvesting the fruits. The extension was granted but I told him to remove all those plants that were not productive. He did not bother, not even after the expiry of the extension. When confronted, he nonchalantly told me that he was short of laborers. But what surprised me was that I saw two of his laborers around harvesting the papayas!

Three months after the expiry of the extension, though the shacks had been demolished, bits and pieces of timbers, roof sheets, plastics and other unwanted materials were left littered all over the place. Most of the fruit trees were felled but their stumps were left and soon new sprouts appeared.

I served him another letter, giving him an ultimatum to clear the remnants and remove all fruit-tree stumps and if he still refused to comply I would engage a contractor to do at his cost and transport the refuse to his house. I also pointedly told him that he was utterly ungrateful and irresponsible.

In spite of these reminders, Farmer Bong still doggedly refused to act. It was solely my choice whether to take action or let it fade away into oblivion. I decided the latter because I wanted to move on and felt that nothing I was going to do could change the mindset of the farmer, who I strongly believed would forever remain poor all his life.

nakedeyeview.com.my 2007