Dear Dato Seri Saraani,
We have read your press release dated 26 October in which you denied that the forced evictions were carried out against a group of small farmers in area A, Kanthan-Tambun on 24-25 October.
We would like to respond to some of the issues you raised in that press release.
Your statement that a group of farmers from Kanthan’s C area were brought to visit the resettlement site in Kampung Kolam, Changkat Kinding in May 2021 is correct.
However, this site was identified and developed without involving the Kanthan farmers in the process of determining a replacement site or getting our opinions regarding the site’s suitability for vegetable cultivation.
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When the farmers from area C were brought to visit the site, they found that the area was hilly, and there wasn’t sufficient water for growing vegetables.
Furthermore, there were several fish-rearing ponds at the foot of the hills, and our farmers were concerned that the fertilisers and pesticides commonly used in vegetable cultivation could contaminate those ponds and cause economic losses for the villagers in that area.
We informed PKNP [Perak State Development Corporation] and the land and mines office of our concerns and requested a discussion with them regarding these problems.
But the requested discussion session has not yet been arranged by PKNP or the land and mines office.
For your information, until now, no Kanthan farmer has accepted land lot offers in Changkat Kinding as it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to establish vegetable farms at that site.
In relation to the “food security action plan” mentioned by you, are you aware that less than 30% of the land area in the six “permanent food production parks” (taman kekal pengeluaran makanan) created in Perak since 2010 is being cultivated? And more than 50% of the cultivated area is planted with oil palm, not vegetables.
Clearly, the six permanent food production park areas that were created are no substitutes for the Kanthan area that supplies 60 tons of vegetables every day.
You also stated that the clearing of the land was done according to the law. We beg to disagree with this statement because:
- Section 425 of the National Land Code, which was used against us, can only be used against trespassers who do not have permission to use government land. We have been based in this area for the past 70 years and have been allowed to do so by the colonial administration and by the Malaysian government until two weeks ago. Therefore, we had ‘implied consent’. We are here with the knowledge and permission of the administration. Kanthan farmers had been given help from the Department of Agriculture in the form of fertilisers previously
- In fact, in 2012 the PKNP offered us leases to the land we were cultivating. (And we were willing to accept this offer, but the PKNP changed its plans.) This shows that the PKNP knew we were indeed based on this land and at that time, it wanted to maintain our presence here. Hence, the use of Section 425 against us is wrong in terms of the law
- In the 425 notice issued on 13 October, we were given one week to vacate the land. Is such a short period reasonable? And our appeals – through letters to PKNP, the land and mines office and you yourself – that were sent in the past week for a discussion and an extension of time were not entertained at all. Was that fair to us who have been on the land for several decades with the state’s knowledge and consent?
- The National Land Code states that a person who does not comply with Section 425 can be sentenced to a fine not exceeding RM10,000 and a prison sentence not exceeding one year after being tried in court. Section 425 does not give the land and mines office the right to trespass into farms, assault and injure people and destroy crops. Such actions are more akin to the behaviour of thugs, not an administration that respects people and the laws of the country
For your knowledge, we have filed a case at the Ipoh High Court to address the above points. We are not satisfied at all with the callous manner we, the farmers in area A, Kanthan-Tambun, were treated by the land and mines office and PKNP on 24 October.
We would like to request you and other leaders in the government to stop using terms such as “squatters” and “illegal” in the context of small vegetable farmers, because it does not give a true picture of our history and the contributions we have made to food supply for the Malaysian population.
It also creates the perception that we are criminals who have been misusing government land for free and therefore can be treated roughly.
The authorities must remember that we were allowed to continue agricultural activities in Kanthan by the colonial government and by the Malaysian government after independence, because the government knew we played an important role in supplying food to the people at a reasonable price.
Many of us have applied for grants, leases and temporary licences, but usually our applications did not get responses from the land office.
We are always ready to pay rent or land tax. When PKNP offered us land leases in 2012, almost all the farmers in this area accepted and signed the agreement form. But unfortunately, PKNP did not proceed with that proposal.
In fact, it is the land and mines office’s and the state government’s policies that have created a situation where most farmers who produce vegetables still do not possess any documents. This is not due to failure or stubbornness on our part.
In our view, the Perak state government has in the past 20 years practised a short-sighted land policy.
Apart from us – that is, the six farmers who experienced the destruction of our farms on 24-25 October – there are another 200 vegetable farmers in the Tambun area who are currently being threatened with eviction because the land that they are working on, has been alienated to developers or government companies. They are trying to defend their farms, but without the cooperation of the government, it is only a matter of time before they too will be evicted.
It seems that previous Perak state governments did not take into account the issue of food security for our country before they disposed of the land that was being cultivated to produce food items.
We sincerely hope you can restore the situation by maintaining all the land that is still being used to produce vegetables as permanent food production areas. This is crucial as with climate change, there is a high likelihood that the world will face food shortages in the medium term.
To achieve the goal of preserving existing food producing land, you have to take back the land involved by paying an appropriate compensation to the developers, perhaps with financial assistance from the MP for Tambun.
This land should be leased to the farmers who are currently on the land for a period of 10 years, with the condition that only food items (apart from oil palm) can be grown in these farms.
It is very important for the wellbeing of Malaysians that state governments adopt an approach that prioritises the preservation of land areas that produce vegetables, fruits and freshwater fish for our people.
(on behalf of the Kanthan-Tambun farmers)
28 October 2023