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Budget a bitter harvest for farmers

Once again the national budget has forgotten
the farming community in Sabah.
KOTA KINABALU: While civil servants, soldiers, police, pensioners and a raft of private sector workers have gained some handouts from the 2012 Budget, the farming community in the state can only stare in envy.

For them there was nothing to smile about after Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on Friday unveiled his budget for 2012 along with a “national transformation policy” geared towards lifting the country to developed nation status by 2020.

The farming community in Sabah is not taking it lying down. Already they are seeing their lands being invaded by plantation companies with the permission of the government.

In a statement on Saturday, the Sabah Bumiputera Farmers and Rearers Association (Petanah) said the budget by the prime minister was a “huge slap in the face of native farmers in Sabah and Sarawak”.

Petanah president, Gaibin Ransoi, said he was shocked that, with all the many packages offered to Malaysians, Najib totally forgot about the poverty-ridden farmers in the Borneo states.

“It’s the same case year after year with the national budget. There are incentives, gifts and additional benefits given to public servants and those already earning good salaries, but those who have no salaries and struggling in poverty like the farmers are completely forgotten and neglected.

“At least the fishermen were promised the Fisherman Special Housing Fund to build and refurbish their houses.

“For the native farmers it is another slap in the face because while all those around them get wage increases, financial reliefs and assistance, they continue to slide down economically.

“This is because while their farm production remains the same, they have to face higher and higher living and working costs,” he said.

Extend allowance to farmers

He said the price of groceries, transport and schooling expenses for their children, as well as for farming equipment and fertilizers continued to rise while most farmers in the state were practicing subsistence farming.

Gaibin said Petanah members are angry that the government keeps forgetting that news about bonuses, increases in salaries and reduction of taxes mean nothing to the poor native farmers who do not enjoy any of these.

“Why can’t the government has any feeling for the native farmers especially those in Sabah who form the poorest grouping of the population but contribute hugely to the nation in terms of food production?” Gaibin asked.

He said for a long time now the fishermen have been given a monthly allowance of RM200, free boats, engines, nets and petrol discounts while the poor farmers in the hills get almost nothing.

Gaibin suggested that the government come up with a comprehensive plan to help the native villagers improve their economic standing by offering them more farming and stockbreeding incentives.

One form of immediate assistance, he said, could be through grants of RM300 per month to all farmers, RM100 more than the fishermen to compensate for their not receiving boats, engines and petrol.

He pointed out that most farmers in Sabah are living well below the poverty line and many can hardly support themselves and have almost no cash in the house.

“Many live in decrepit houses without basic amenities and their children are hardly clothed.

“The worst thing is that many of them are being chased out of their NCR lands because their lands have been given to big companies.

“Sadly, some politicians who were voted into office by the poor farmers are siding with these companies,” he said.

Over the past several years, the mostly indigent farmers in rural areas have seen lands that they had toiled on for generations to eke out a living come under the control of well-connected companies, some of which have appointed politicians to their boards of directors.

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