PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has finally focused on the much neglected agriculture sector with the RM2.8bil allocation for that sector in Budget 2006.
Never since the Red Book strategy for rural development introduced by the late Tun Abdul Razak has such serious attention been given to this sector.
However, as is well known, allocation of funds alone does not necessarily mean that farmers and fishermen will “benefit” as is being widely, if not loosely, touted in the media.
The foremost question here is whether the statutory rural institutions introduced by Tun Razak to spearhead rural development are properly functioning or whether, as is more likely the case, they may need to be reformed and restructured.
For instance, no comprehensive land reform enactment was put in place to protect tenant farmers from unscrupulous landlords, especially in the case of padi farmers where they have to pay advance rents and double rentals for double-cropping.
Indeed, research undertaken by Universiti Sains Malaysia in the early stages of the Muda double-cropping scheme in Kedah, showed that nearly 75% of all land was owned by absentee landlords, and the vast majority of land under cultivation was below 5 relong (approximately 2,870sqm), which meant that tenants had no choice but to operate uneconomic holdings.
It would seem that this pattern of land ownership has not changed significantly judging from the findings of more recent studies, and that the so-called “green revolution” in padi cultivation was green only “at the top”.
Regrettably, other studies also showed that the institutions originally established for “bottom-top” participatory development under the Red Book, such as cooperatives, do not appear to be functioning as they should.
As for the “restructuring” of the Agricultural Department with 225 new posts and the setting up of Agricultural Counsellor Offices abroad – it is the opposite of what was recommended by Tun Razak’s Red Book strategy.
The Red Book called for the appointment of state development officers to work directly with the people on the ground to achieve more lasting project implementation results within the bottom-top turun padang concept.
DR COLLIN ABRAHAM,
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