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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 19. 2nd August 1973

Rural Unemployment

Rural Unemployment

Unemployment in the rural areas is even more staggering than in the cities and towns. The number is never registered. Their living conditions are extremely unstable. For example, some 54,000 rubber estate workers are facing unemployment as a result of fragmentation of estates. This is about one-fifth of the total number of rubber estate workers employed in the country. As investment in industry is more profitable than in land, the foreign investment in rubber estates and land is now being channelled into industry. The large rubber estates have been broken into smaller blocks and sold to the local capitalists. With the change of management and ownership, the rubber estate workers were retrenched from their jobs. Furthermore, with the industrialisation programme launched by the Alliance government to lure more foreign investors by offering most attractive economic incentives, the process of capital investment diverted from land into industry has been accelerating.

Peasants, including rubber, coconut and palm oil smaller-holders, vegetable farmers, other food-crop owners as well as fishermen amount to more than a million. They live in perpetual misery. The prices of their produce especially paddy rice, one of the main agricultural crops of the country, have been forced down by the authorities under the function of minimum prices and many peasants have been compelled to stop cultivating land. Because of their poverty, most of them are forced to live on one meal a day, with between 20 and 50 cents for the daily expenditure of the whole family. To be indebted has become a way of life for the peasants as well as small owners. Land-hungry peasants are increasing in numbers from day to day, while a handful of landlords and developers and foreign investors monopolise large tracts of land.

The peasantry in Malaya makes up over 65 per cent of the population While about 66—70 per cent of the peasants are landless, large tracts of land are concentrated in the hands of foreign investors and a tiny handful of Malay landlords and Chinese-Indian merchants- page 15 industrialists-bankers. In northern Malaya, two-thirds of all cultivated land is owned by only 2,000 landlord families. With at least 15,000 peasants rendered landless every year, the question of landlessness is the biggest problem haunting the Alliance government.