Harris blames govt for rural folks staying poor

Kota Kinabalu: The Government needs to analyse the reason behind its failure to improve the people's living standard in the rural areas as many are still just making enough to get by.

"Because they are in this situation, even if the government assists in developing their abandoned land, they would still need some kind of financial assistance in the form of a temporary monthly 'hardship allowance' while working on their land and waiting for the harvest."

The shortcomings of the Government's policies are also the reason why farmers remain mainly producers for the local Tamu, instead of becoming agriculture entrepreneurs.

Giving these views was former Chief Minister Datuk Harris Salleh, who said despite the significant improvement in basic infrastructure that has been extended to the rural areas, many rural people remain poor without any or no permanent income.

"Nobody knows why. The only reason given is that the people are lazy.

Actually, the reason is due to the shortcomings and ineffectiveness of the Government's policies and programmes," he said.

Delivering a talk at the Syarahan Tokoh Pertanian at the Recital Hall in Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Thursday, he said there were various factors leading to smallholders abandoning their land.

He said most of the Government projects were found to be either not suitable for rural people or the areas; the policies do not contain serious commitment or are implemented half-heartedly and the dominance of buyers has caused prices to be unstable and below even the farmers' nominal production costs.

Also, the subsidies on food products and agricultural produce like rice and cooking oil have further suppressed prices and become a disincentive and hotels and up-market restaurants prefer to serve imported rather than local fruits.

Towards this end, Harris said a detailed and comprehensive study by the Government could translate all the data into a truly committed plan of action to develop rural areas and at the same time motivate rural people to accept the challenge.

"This study must look into the question of land suitability, the best ways to exploit the desire and ability of the smallholders and farmers to meet the challenges of change and the creation of a fair and reliable market for any type of agricultural produce," he said.

Harris stressed that unless and until such a comprehensive study is done, the only progress seen in the rural areas would be the infrastructure, schools and clinics.

However, the income levels of the rural people would remain the same while the general cost of living keeps increasing.

"In a nutshell, if there is no commercially sustainable agricultural produce, there will be no perniagaan tani (agri-business)," he said.


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