Friday June 22, 2012
Farmers in a quandary
By FOONG PEK YEE
Photos by RONNIE CHIN
HE ANTICIPATES the worst whenever he receives a telephone call from an unfamiliar number.
Like any farmer in Bidor Station New Village, Ling Lye Wei is worried that sand mining towkays will take the land he is toiling on.
The towkays’ representatives, upon identifying a piece of land, will call farmers to make way for the mining activities after compensating him for the crops on the land.
They claimed they had mining permits from the authorities, leaving the farmers with no other choice.
Ling, whose 1.21ha farm was flattened last year, said the mining activities had left his land barren now.
“We (farmers) do not want the compensation. We just want to earn a living by farming,” said Ling, 35.
He said the mining activities had shattered the peace in the village these days.
Relating his experience last year, Ling said he had pleaded with the operators to allow him to harvest his crops (turnips and sweet potatoes) before they flattened his farm.
But the operators said he would only be granted his wish if he could put in a RM20,000 cash deposit on the spot and signed a legal declaration to vacate the land once he had finished harvesting his crops.
“I did not have the money thus I watched helplessly while they bulldozed my farm,” he lamented.
Ling who has been a farmer for over a decade, said bountiful harvest is not just money to the farmers, but also their pride and sense of satisfaction after putting in all the hard work.
He said a farmer, whose plot was next to his, was even more unlucky.
This farmer who sat on his plot of land, watching bulldozers raze his farm, was subsequently hauled to court and slapped with a RM500 fine for obstructing “work in progress.”
Farmer Chang Swee Chyan, 49, said the irony was that the farmers were also accused of being violent though they only wanted to negotiate with the mining operators to minimise damage to the farms.
The farmers also wondered why many policemen were present whenever the operators approached the farmers to vacate their land.
Another farmer Heng Hua Tai, 33, said his farm that was also flattened by sand operators last year was now left barren.
“The operators promised to rehabilitate my land within six months but they only did so after a year.
“Even then, the crops were not able to grow well after the rehabilitation” he said.
Heng added that he had to rent land from other farmers to plant vegetables for a living now.
Ling claimed that the operators dump just anything to fill the land after excavating the sand.
This had rendered the land being no longer conducive for farming, he added.
Ling urged the authorities not to allow the operators to encroach into the farms any more.
Although they toiled on the land without a permit, he pointed out that the farmers had been contributing to the country such as producing food for the people, paying tax to the Government, and churning many downstream economic activities.
Meanwhile, the prolonged hot spell has also worsened the situation in the village.
Ling said the absence of rainfall and the lowering of the water table due to sand mining were damaging to the crops.
Besides, some water ponds were also contaminated because the operators washed their sand in the ponds, he said.
“Air pollution from sand mining had been made worse by the haze, and many farm workers were falling sick,” Ling said.
Meanwhile, farmer Chang Swee Cheong, 50, said the farmers who had been toiling on land without permit for decades expected some problems but did not expect it to be this bad.
He said his late father Chong Kah had applied for a temporary occupation licence (TOL) in 1968 but was unsuccessful.
His father died more than a decade ago and his late grandfather was the first generation farmer.
Chang said the Government might be promoting agriculture but had overlooked vegetable farmers and favoured those who cultivated oil palm and rubber instead.
Sin Mun Pooi, 52, whose entire cucumber farm had withered due to the prolong hot spell and water shortage found out that his problem was far from over.
More than half of his 2.02ha land was ruined by sand mining; and the mining activities are moving nearer to the remaining land.
The father of three said he did not know what to do, but his weather beaten face and worried looks spoke volumes of his situation.
Another farmer Kah Then Seng, 56, requested the authorities to put a stop to the mining activities immediately.
He said the farms had been facing water shortage for almost two weeks.
“While we cannot control the weather, we can control human actions,” he reasoned.