Malaysia: Illegal farmers are back in Cameron, barely a year after Ops Gading

RAHMAT KHAIRULRIJAL New Straits Times 24 May 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Illegal farmers have returned to Cameron Highlands, barely a year after the authorities had launched a massive joint operation to curb illegal farming and land encroachment here.

National Security Council (NSC) secretary Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad said areas which had previously been cleared of illegal farming were Ringlet, Sungai Mention, Kampung Raja and Lembah Bertam.

“We have discovered that illegal farmers have returned to their old ways in three locations near Blue Valley and Lembah Bertam, involving seven hectares of state land.

"The Irrigation and Drainage Department have also identified 26 rivers which had been encroached for the same activity. "We view this matter seriously.

Those who found guilty will face the consequences under Ops Gading 2, which was launched on March 3," he said after chairing the Cameron Highland Rehabilitation Technical Committee meeting here today.

He said phase two of the operation from March to July will focus on encroachment, eradicating illegal workers, as well as rehabilitating Cameron Highlands.

"Various actions will be taken against the culprits if they are found to be working in cahoots with the illegal farmers," he said.

He said enforcement officers, who conducted the operation, were threatened by gangsters believed to have been hired by illegal farmers.

A total of 83 per cent out of 2,258.16 hectares land for illegal farming had been destroyed from Dec 2014 to Dec 2015.

It was reported that the government needed at least RM2.2 billion in order to fully rehabilitate Cameron Highland, which had been ravaged by the scourge of illegal farming.

Evicted farmers from Cameron Highlands can seek state government help
FERNANDO FONG New Straits Times 24 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Small farmers in Cameron Highlands who are evicted from their farms can seek help from the state for resettlement purposes, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said the Federal government, through the Cameron Highlands Action Council Committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, has been working with Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob to help them.

New settlements will be set up to relocate small farmers who are evicted in the first place because they do not have TOL (temporary occupation licence).

Access to basic facilities such as water, road and electricity will be provided at these settlements, to be planned by the Rural and Regional Development Ministry, he added.

The small farmers had been evicted during "Ops Gading”, a joint operation led by the National Security Council (NSC) to curb illegal farming and land encroachment.

The operation was launched in Dec 2014 following mud floods that devastated the agriculture town of Bertam Valley.

“It is intended to crack down on large-scale commercial farmers who occupy vast amounts of land with labour provided by illegal foreign workers.

"Some of the illegal foreign workers even ventured to set up farms on their own,” said Wan Junaidi.

He was replying a question from Fuziah Salleh (PKR-Kuantan) who wanted to know the solution for small farmers who had been evicted for occupying state land without permission.

Fuziah said when they tried to apply for land to resettle, they were told by the District Office that there was no more land available for farming.

Wan Junaidi said Fuziah can help them by submitting a name list to the Menteri Besar.

At the same time, he said the Bertam river widening project is almost ready and will increase the water capacity by six times.

“This will help to avert flood in Bertam Valley as we want to save the place. “The government takes note of the farmers’ contribution and we will always consider their needs,” he said.

The Bertam Valley project, which is carried out at a cost of RM 30.8 million, will widen as well deepen the river by up to 200,000 square metres, benefiting some 3,000 people.

Three more areas illegally cleared
IVAN LOH The Star 25 May 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Despite the curbs and the many efforts taken, several new areas here have been illegally opened up for farming, worsening what was already a bad situation.

National Security Council secretary Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad said the ongoing Ops Gading had found three new areas, involving some 7.28ha of land, that have been illegally cleared.

“These were found at Blue Valley and Bertam Valley.

“We have asked TNB to cut off the electric supply to these areas,” he said after chairing an Ops Gading Phase II meeting at the district council here yesterday.

“We will seize the heavy machinery found at these illegally-cleared sites,” he said, adding that the second phase of the operation, which began on March 3, would end on July 30.

Alias also said the Drainage and Irrigation Department had identified 26 areas along river reserves that have been encroached.

These areas, he said, included two areas in Sungai Mansion, four in Ringlet and one each at Kampung Raja and Bertam Valley.

He added that existing operators or farmers were also returning to their illegally cleared land to continue their farming operations there.

“At least 83% of these illegal farm sites were destroyed during the previous operation.

“Many farmers are returning to these sites. We will be taking action against them again,” he added.

Alias said enforcement personnel had received threats from some people, including tontos, during the operation.

“There were verbal threats and bottle throwing. Some were shot at with darts.

“We will not view this lightly, although no one was hurt,” he said.

Alias said this year’s operation was on a smaller scale compared to the first one.

“It involves about 57 personnel from 18 agencies,” he said.

Noting that the operation was aimed at preventing illegal clearing of land, Alias said it was also focused on curbing illegal immigrants.

“We are now adopting a softer approach to educate and to create awareness on preserving the environment, which is the main pull factor for the highlands as a tourism destination.

“There were also some foreign companies involved, financing some local farmers. We are still investigating that,” he said.

“We will propose to the Companies Commission to blacklist them and the Immigration to bar them from entering the country,” he added.

Alias said enforcement efforts were not a long-term solution to curb land clearing activities.

“This is why we are looking at using a soft approach.

“Education is the key. We want to create awareness among the people and farmers,” he said.

‘Clearing has been going on non-stop’
The Star 25 May 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Land clearing activity on the highland has been continuing non-stop despite Ops Gading, said Regional Environmental Awareness Came­ron Highlands (Reach) president R. Ramakrishnan.

“I know it won’t stop overnight but the Government needs to be serious about this,” he said when interviewed.

“The only positive change is that the Federal Government is continuing with Ops Gading.”

Ramakrishnan said Reach had been highlighting the illegal land clearing issue for the past 16 years.

Corruption, he said, was one reason land clearing activities were still happening.

“After the matter was highlighted, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission set up an office here but no serious action has been taken.

“They said no reports (on land clearing) have been lodged with them, which is an excuse. If they charge someone, the public can trust them,” he added.

Ramakrishnan said the temperature at the highlands had been gradually rising since the 1980s, caused by land clearing activities.

“The greenhouse farming method used by farmers is also having an effect,” he said.

He said one good indicator that the temperature was rising was the effect on nature.

“We can see changes in the climate especially on the flora and fauna.

“Some mountain birds can’t be found anymore. The dendrobium brinchang ensis orchid, which only grows here, is rarely found now,” he added.

In April, National Security Council secretary Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad said phase one of Ops Gading, from December 2014 to 2015, had seen 98 illegal farming cases probed by the police.

The second phase that is on now will continue until July.

The plan is to rid Cameron Highlands of illegal farming and development, re-greening the area and legalising undocumented workers by 2030.

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