Help Orang Asli become entrepreneurs, says activist

Activist Colin Nicholas urges the government to recognise customary land for the Orang Asli to own and till.

PETALING JAYA: A land rights activist has urged the government to help develop the skills of the Orang Asli who can become rubber, palm oil and fruit farming entrepreneurs.

Center for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas said government schemes to dish out dividends from palm oil and rubber plantations are keeping the minority group poor compared to land owners who make 10 times more from the sales of the crops.

He said the indigenous people make only RM450 a month while land owners raked in RM5,000 to RM6,000 at the peak of the palm oil and rubber trade.

“The gap is wide. That is why the government needs to recognise customary land for the Orang Asli to own and work on,” he told FMT.

He said the more advanced Orang Asli communities could carry out other models of farming or work with produce they were familiar with on their customary land.

Several days ago, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah called for ways to help improve the lives of the Orang Asli and the poor.

He proposed that the concept of Felda, set up to reduce poverty through cash crops, be improved and expanded to these groups to provide long-term resources for their children and grandchildren.

In June, meanwhile, the government said it would introduce the estate farming model to increase the income of smallholders in rural areas where land belonging to them would be merged and managed professionally like an estate to increase agriculture produce.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the agricultural produce from the estates would be distributed to smallholders depending on the size of their land.

He also suggested that estates involving smallholders’ land be used to carry out mixed farming to reduce dependence on one crop, as is the practice in palm oil and rubber estates.

However, Nicholas warned against a “one model fits all” approach, saying there are Orang Asli who are entrepreneurs and who are able to cultivate and manage their own land.

“The intention of giving dividends is good, but it is time to look into the customary land of the Orang Asli so that they can be independent by cultivating and selling their crops.

“They have the skills. Many of the Orang Asli are trained to be rubber, palm oil and fruit farming entrepreneurs and are able to cultivate their own produce,” he said.

Nicholas, who has been working with the Orang Asli for three decades, added that many Orang Asli are able to run their own land. Those without land should be given a chance to own their own plots and become entrepreneurs, he said.