English World

‘Insane’ profits from farms in Camerons

KUALA LUMPUR: PROFITS from illicit farming in Cameron Highlands is so insane that authorities fear it will be an uphill battle to stop the illegal clearing of government land and forests in the highlands.

New revelations have suggested a gaping difference between the “official” output from land under Temporary Occupation Licences, and the actual tonnage of produce harvested from the highlands.

The New Straits Times was made to understand that some 500,000 tonnes of farm produce, from three harvests, are exported from the highlands each year. This is all supposedly from farms under TOLs. Income derived from these exports is in the region of a whopping RM1.5 billion a year.

Agricultural experts and authorities told the NST that the kind of tonnage coming out of Cameron Highlands would have been from at least 5,300ha of farmland.

However, official documents suggest that only some 2,000 TOLs were issued for agriculture in the highlands, covering an area of roughly 2,000ha.

The number of state-issued TOLs for Cameron Highlands in 2003 was 1,843. By 2012, it had increased to 2,041. Each licence is roughly for a tract of land between 0.8ha and 1.6ha. Illegally expanded farms are a different story.

The output of farm produce from 2,000ha of land in Cameron Highlands, according to agricultural experts, should logically be in the region of 180,000 tonnes a year, if harvested three times annually.

“Unless the officially allowed acreage for TOL land cultivation had been expanded by 3,300ha (from 2,000ha to tally with the output of produce from 5,300ha of farm land) since 2012, it is rather perplexing to see so much produce coming out of legal cultivation.

“Just how do you explain the difference in tonnage? Where did the rest come from? I think we all know the answer,” said the expert.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry’s Horticulture Division director Normah Othman told the NST that records showed that 50 per cent of the farm produce from Cameron Highlands were exported to Singapore.

“The up to 500,000 tonnes of produce that comes from Cameron Highlands we are talking about are all from TOL land. For every kilogramme of farm produce, the average profit is RM3,” she said.

If basic calculations are anything to go by, greedy and unscrupulous farmers have been laughing all the way to the bank, with some RM890 million every year, thanks to the dubiously sourced produce tonnage.

This latest revelation has also prompted stronger calls for a thorough audit of official data of land approved for cultivation under TOLs against farming currently being carried out in the highlands.

Malaysian Institute of Integrity Datuk Dr Mohd Tap Salleh said only by doing so would the authorities know the extent of the damage that irresponsible farmers had done.

“The institute welcomes the positive response from the state government to the suggestion by NST for a full land audit to be carried out.

“We also welcome the National Audit Department’s response that they would soon send their auditors for the purpose,” he said.

The NST had been running a series of issues besieging Cameron Highlands.

Among others, it had exposed the existence of a highly-confidential document known to those in business in the highlands as surat kuning. This “recommendation letter” is usually sent to the district office by influential figures.

This newspaper then called for a thorough audit of the highlands’ administration, including the issuance of land development permits, if the state was serious in arresting the ongoing land encroachment problem in the highlands.

Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob responded to the NST, agreeing to an audit that would cross-check the development of land against what had been set in the highlands’ development plan.

He said in the district’s planning, land-use categories had been pre-identified and marked and that “all development programmes needed to tally with the plan”.

In his statement, he denied that the surat kuning from palace officials, was among the root causes of problems that Cameron Highlands was facing, saying that it was only normal for many applicants to get testimonials and recommendations from whom they think could lend support to their applications.

He said testimonials and recommendations from all, including palace officials, were looked into, but in the end, it would be the state authorities who would decide, based on merit.

The NST has learnt that the issuance of new TOLs has been frozen since 2001.


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