Help smallholders to boost food security, govt told

Noel Achariam

Civil society group Lawan Lapar says if the government is to ensure food security, it must start by protecting smallholders. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 22, 2023.

CIVIL society group Lawan Lapar said Putrajaya must look into ensuring food security and smallholders’ land rights.

It said it was concerned about the alleged eviction of farmers from their land in Perak.

Lawan Lapar co-founders Ian Yee and Tharma Pillai told The Malaysian Insight if the government wished to ensure food security, it must realise agricultural productivity efforts start with smallholders.

Tharma said the issue needed the attention of parliamentarians.

“If we don’t defend farmers and fishermen’s rights, how are they going to (pursue) sustainable, long-term food production?” he asked.

On September 12, Perak farmers, Lawan Lapar and and Parti Sosialis Malaysia members marched from Tugu Negara to Parliament to voice their concerns.

They handed a memorandum to Agriculture and Food Security Minister Mohamed Sabu’s political secretary, an officer from the Prime Minister’s Department, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Abdul Karim.

Lawan Lapar co-founder Tharma Pillai says the government must look into acquiring permanent land to grow food crops to guarantee food security. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, September 22, 2023.

Tharma, who is also Undi18 co-founder, said Lawan Lapar has proposed more permanent agricultural land for food crops.

“We have so much land for commodity crops such as palm oil and other high commercial-use plantations, but little land for food crops such as rice and fruits.

“There is an opportunity now to look into the food crisis and long-term reforms in the 12th Malaysia Plan, and an urgent need to solve this problem and change the mechanism and system.”

Other proposals in the memorandum were for the government to establish new systems and expand the current gazettement of permanent food-producing land.

This would ensure the agricultural sector benefited from permanent land stock to ensure national food security, said the group, adding that Putrajaya could activate this system by acquiring state land.

Lawan Lapar also urged the government to reform land laws, specifically, to extend the maximum duration of the temporary occupancy licence from one to five years.

“Federal and state governments must cooperate to … ensure transparency for all state land deals to prevent corruption, and create a subsidy system to encourage state governments to preserve agricultural land,” it said.

Lawan Lapar co-founder Ian Yee says the group is making a documentary on farmers in Perak being evicted from their land so the government can sell the plots to private developers. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, September 22, 2023.

Documentary on farmers’ plight

Yee, who is also a filmmaker, said the group was focusing on documenting the plight of about 200 Perak farmers, particularly in Chemor and Khantan.

“There was a spate of land evictions going on there, so we are looking into it. This involves helping them with their legal advocacy and their land rights.”

Yee said this was the main issue farmers face, as some plots have been in their families for generations.

“These are rural smallholders who are not wealthy. The issue is that the state government did not issue them with land titles.

“In the last 10 years, the state government has decided to sell the land to private developers.”

He said the farmers want the federal government to step in and acquire land for them, and gazette the plots as permanent food-producing areas (TKPM).

“Some farmers are producing 60 tonnes of food a day based on our survey, so why take it away when it can be gazetted as TKPM?

“Another issue is state governments alienating land for private companies. There needs to be transparency in all deals.

Regarding the documentary, Yee said: “We want to show the reality of what’s happening to poor farmers and fishermen who are losing their livelihoods, cultures and identities to development.

“We hope these people don’t get sidelined for economic expediency.”

He said Lawan Lapar would release the documentary on the Perak farmers’ plight next month on the group’s social media platforms.

“It will be a web series of short clips and interviews with the farmers to create awareness of their plight.” – September 22, 2023.

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