Salient. Newspaper of Victoria University of Wellington Students Association. Vol 41 No. 3. March 13 1978
News from Malaysia and Singapore
News from Malaysia and Singapore
Rice Crop Disaster
Sever drought in north Malaya has so depleted the irrigation dams that the Malysian government has decided to abandon the off-season padi crop in the Kuala Muda irrigation scheme area, which covers 230,000 acres in Kedah and Perlis. This will result in the loss of 235,000 tons of rice valued at $169 million, and will adversely effect the livlihood of the 60,000 families families in the area.
According to the chairman of the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA), Datuk Syed Nahar Shahabuddin, the depletion of the dams was due to a series of events. Serious drought in late 1976 and early 1977 had reduced water reserves by half by September last year.
Furthermore, the absence of expected heavy rainfall at the end of last year meant that water from the dams had to be released to save the current main-season padi crop from withering, thereby further depleting water reserves which should have been used on the next (off-season) crop to be planted in March this year. Consequently the dams presently do not have adequate reserves to water the padi fields in the Muda area to a height of at least 6 inches throughout the maturing period of the high yeilding variety (HYV) rice plants, which is essential to ensure a good yeild. In the light of the severe water shortage the government has decided to abandon the off-season crop, and water will not be released by MADA for irrigation purpose during that period.
Ironically it is the government's introduction of the HYV rice that has partly contributed to the abandonment of the off-season crop. The HYV rice — or "miracle" rice — will produce high yeilds only under ideal conditions. Unlike the hardy traditional rice, which has evolved through thousands of years of natural selection, HYV rice is a delicate plant that is very vulnerable to disease and requires a lot of nutrients and water. The absence of an essential element e.g. optimum irrigation, may cause HYV rice to produce even less grain than traditional varieties.
The introduction of HYV rice to Malaysia and other parts of South East Asia in in the sixties — the "Green" Revolution —was intended by the World Bank and the local ruling elites to stave off the "Red" (i.e. communist-led) Revolution by increasing rural productivity and thereby incomes without the need to undertake land reform, which has been strongly resisted by big land-owning interests entrenched in the government.
However, without land reform, the root cause of peasant poverty — land hunger arising from unequal distribution of land-still remains. In fact, the present crisis will throw this root problem of tenant fanners into clearer perspective. While all 60.000 families in the Muda area will be adversely affected by the loss of the offseason crop, the most severely hit will be the 21,000 families of tenant farmers, who are the poorest group with the least savings to fall hack upon.
The government, no doubt acutely aware that peasant discontent was one of the chief factors that led to the downfall of the Thai military dictatorship in October 1973, has already announced measures to assist the affected farmers, especially the tenant farmers. $6.3 million will be spent on giving employment to tenant farmers e.g. clearing irrigation canals, repairing farm roads. Vegetable (e.g. cabbage) seeds, chicks, and fish fry will be distributed to enable them to earn income from other sources.
Another measure to alleviate the farmers' hardship was a directive to Bank Pertanian (Agricultural Bank) to give a year's grace to affected farmers on repayment of loans obtained through the Farmers' Organisations Authority (FOA). However, this measure will help mainly rich peasants as most poor (tenant) farmers are unable or unwilling to obtain FOA loans because these lending arrangements are biased against poor farmers e.g. the farmers' organisations generally demand relatively high membership subscriptions, ration credit according to the size of a member's farm, stipulate that credit be used for production purposes only (whereas poor farmers often require loans for their families' subsistance), and set strict conditions on security for loans extended e.g. land deeds, or buffalo licence.
It is highly probable that the padi crop disaster will push afflicted farmers, especially poor farmers, even deeper into the clutches of rural money-lenders, who still provide the bulk of loans in the countryside because of the failure of government sources of credit like FOA(above) to assist poor farmers. Once in debt the poor farmer will find it difficult — given high interest rates and low income — to extricate himself from the cycle of indebtedness. Soon he will be borrowing to repay the interest on his original loan, and before long his "credit worthyness" runs out with the result that he has to sell his farm to repay his debts. He then joins the approximately 10,000 families made landless every year.
Apart from hitting farmers in north Malaya, the rice crop disaster will probably affect consumers as well, for the sharp fall in padi production (more than 10% of annual production) will inevitably jack up the price of rice unless the government steps in to stabilise the price by subsidies. The National Padi and Rice Authority (LPN), which has a statutory monopoly over the purchase and sale of padi and rice, has come out with an assurance that it has sufficient rice stocks to meet every emergency. However people will not be comforted by the thought that it was the Authority itself which during the rice shortage in 1972—73 exploited its monopoly position and refused to realise its vast stocks of rice until the market price had rocketed sky-high. Subsequently the Authority was able to announce a handsome profit for that period.
While the effects of the crop disaster will only start making themselves felt over the next few months, the repercussions of the disaster could be more far-reaching as the confidence of north Malayan farmers in the government and its projects may be seriously undermined, possibly leading them to re-appraise the assumptions behind the "Green" Revolution.
(Ref: New Straits Times 9,11,15,16,18.1.78
Fuemsso "20 years after Merdeka: The Economy")
Kuala Lumpur Fri.— Eight new political parties — three from Sarawak, two from Federal Territory and one each from Sahah, Kelantan and Penang — are now in the process of being registered, said the Deputy Registrar of Societies, Mr. T. Nadarajah.
The parties are Partal Rakyat Jati Sarawak. Partai Bersatu Rakyat Jelata Sarawak, the Sarawak Democratic Action Party, the Malaysia Action Party, Partai Pekeria Malaysia, Sabah Chinese United Party, Ikatan Muslimin Insaf Malaysia and Partai Socialist Democratic Malaysia.
Mr. Nadarajah said that the applications from these parties were now under consideration.
They would be registered as soon as they met the requirements of the law, he said.
Most of these parties were formed within the last few months.
The latest application was received from the Patai Socialist Democratic Malaysia based in Penang — a splinter group of the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
The Malaysian Action Party is headed by Encik. M. Mohamad Ibrahim a businessman from Kuala Lumpur, while the Sabah Chinese United Party is led by a company director, Datuk Pang Tet Tshung.
The former Selangor State Assembly member from Serendah, Puan Ganga Nair, is heading the Partai Pekerja Malaysia and a former police officer, Encik Alli Kawi is the president of the Partai Rakyat Jati Sarawak.
Businessman Bong Kim Yuk and Abang Mohamad bin Abang Anding are heading the Sarawak Democratic Action Party and the Partai Bersatu Rakyat Jelata Sarawak respectively.
Mr. Nadarajah said under the law all citizens were free to form any political party they wished, and it would be registered if it met all the requirements under the Societies Act.
On the number of Societies de-registered last year, he said a total of 309 societies were de-registered mainly because of breach of rules.
He said among them 207 were cancelled because they failed to furnish their annual returns, 46 were de-registered because they had ceased to exist, while 54 dissolved voluntarily. — Bernama.