PONTIAN: A pakcik in his 60s here has every reason to be proud of his eight children – seven are working professionals while the youngest is in university.
And he owes it all to the wonders of oil palm, which has given his family their source of income for many years.
“Saya besarkan anak dengan sawit (I raised my children with oil palm), ” he said in an interview.
But how things have changed for him of late, due to low oil palm prices for more than a year.
“About 75% of the villagers here depend on oil palm for a living. We are suffering. The price must be at least RM400 per tonne for us to survive.
“The labour cost for harvesting a tonne of oil palm fruit is RM70. The other costs are for fertilisers, weedkillers, transportation and maintenance, ” he lamented.
Rising cost of living and doing business,
and the prolonged low oil palm price, is a hot topic in the Tanjung Piai by-election campaign.
Being a predominantly agricultural community, most of the folk are oil palm smallholders, fishermen and odd-job workers.
“The government has to do something quickly to raise the price of palm oil. That is all I ask for, ” said the pakcik who is from Peradin here, adding that Home Minister and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Dr Sahruddin Jamal had met villagers to ask what they wanted from the government.
This is no surprise, as the palm oil price issue is one of major concerns for Pakatan Harapan as it bids to retain the seat following the death of its MP Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik on Sept 21.
The by-election is a six-cornered fight, but essentially a race between Bersatu’s Karmaine Sardini, 66, and Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng, 55.
Karmaine, an architect, courted controversy on the first day of campaigning when he told the villagers to be grateful that the
palm oil price was at RM270 per tonne.
He was reported to have questioned the expenses, except for petrol, incurred by the villagers, and was said to have even told them to grow their own vegetables.
There are villagers who are forced to take up more than one job to survive.
The pakcik, who helps look after a friend’s chilli farm, said Muhyiddin had only assured villagers that the price of oil palm would go up in the future.
“We want to know when prices will go
up again. But he did explain to us that it involved international factors as well, ” said the pakcik.
To add to the woes, fishermen in the constituency also have their complaints, which mainly concern dwindling catch.
Hashim Pandeng, 58, said he only got RM3.50 for 100gm of prawns.
There are times when he would return with an almost empty haul, with just 300gm to 400gm of prawns.
There have been days when his haul was about 4kg, but these occasions are very rare.
“Things are very uncertain, ” said the bachelor, adding that he was forced to do odd jobs during the durian season to make ends meet.