Thursday, October 9, 2014

Promises made, some fulfilled, most broken

09/10/2014 - 09:30

Jimmy Adit

OUTSPOKEN: Upper Baram is a difficult country, any promise of development is received with much enthusiasm by folks from villages with names that begin with ‘Long’.

Long Peluan, Long Banga, Long Beruang – all those Long this, Long that, it really means they are located in the upper reaches very difficult to reach. 

Nowadays, some of the luckier Longs can be reached in 10 hours from Miri via plantation and logging roads. 

However, not a few Longs still take two or three days to reach if the water level in the Batang Baram is right. Otherwise, the journey could take a whole week.

Promises of roads and bridges have not stopped coming, and that’s because everybody knows that the roads and bridges are basic to improving the quality of life of the folks there.

For as long as the promised roads and bridges are not there to facilitate the smooth movement of people and goods, life in the upper Baram cannot be expected to improve.

A return trip to the city on the back of a 4WD can cost up to RM500, which is why when the first BR1M was given, for most recipients of upper Baram, it was a burden. Many had to spend more than RM500 to get RM500. 

Not a few were forced into a bad deal when their stay in town was prolonged because the logging roads were rendered impassable by flash floods. An extra night stay means having to dig deeper into pockets – for those with deep pockets, of course. For those without, it could mean seeking out relatives and friends for food and shelter. Otherwise, it’s sleeping on the street, and that’s how burdensome BR1M can be!

In fact, that’s how burdening any task can be when folks are required to make the trip to the government departments in town, which is why any promise of a development aimed at improving life’s quality is enthusiastically received.

The same enthusiasm played in the faces of folks when it was announced that the government has approved the Peluan/Banga/Beruang Integrated Highland Agriculture Station (IHAS), on Sept 21.

The ministerial announcement says the development will be within a 625ha piece of land and will include building an Agriculture Department office, police station, Immigration office and a secondary school, and setting aside 25ha for an agriculture training station to train the folks of Long Peluan, Long Banga, Long Beruang, Bario Highlands and villages in Kedaya Telang Usan.

Picture perfect! Hope at last – after more than 50 years of independence. From the man who matters – the minister.

Speaking of the minister, it was he who told Dayaks to plant the kepayang tree for its supposed commercial potential. 

Him being the minister and a trained agriculturalist, many Dayaks listened to him and planted the tree despite knowing that not many people, even among the Dayaks themselves, dare eat the kepayang fruit.  

S Jibeng’s ‘Mabuk Kepayang’ is too good to be true:  

Bukan hati tak kasih sayang 
Bukan hati tak rindu dendam 
Sayang si manis tak berteman 
Jalan seorang
Ingin kutanya siapa nama 
Tapi di manakah rumahnya 
Mungkin dia adakah yang punya 
Aduh manisnya 

Tak tahan ku senyumannya 
Menyusuk ke dalam jiwa
Bukan hati tak kasih sayang 
Bukan hati tak rindu dendam 
Jumpa si manis hatiku senang 
Mabuk kepayang

If it were like the song, no Dayaks would ever refuse to eat the kepayang fruit. 

But the kepayang has been known to kill. It’s poisonous, and Dayaks know this all along although they only knew about its cyanide content after the minister’s call to commercially plant it.

Dayaks were also encouraged to plant the teak tree, the kayu jati. According to their political leaders, the trees are fast growing and reach harvestable size in less than 10 years. 

So landed Dayaks rushed to buy the seedlings (from “registered” suppliers, of course) and planted them. Now 30 years later, we still have yet to hear of Dayaks exporting teak wood.

The few trees still standing – many have been cut down by their angry owners – I pass by everyday are easily 20 years old, and they don’t seem to have grown any bigger.

And then a deep freezer plant was built near my home town. It was proudly declared that once the plant was operational, fruit farmers in the district would have a ready buyer for their rambutan, durian, pineapple, langsat and what-have-you.

Fortunately, this time farmers refused to listen. Not that they did not plant fruit trees; they did and still do, but not because of the deep-freezer plant project. 

You see, ours is a growing town, without the deep-freezer plant, there is market for almost anything – fruits included.

But speaking of the deep-freezer plant project, it is probably the district’s biggest white elephant that has long gone into hibernation. Several million ringgit went to sleep with it.

Dayaks were also told they could strike gold planting jatropha. Their political leaders even went as far as going to China to show how serious they were that Dayaks planting jatropha would strike that gold, which remains elusive to this day.

The jatropha brouhaha turned out to be a farce!

I wish those folks in upper Baram the best of luck. I am never a pessimist, but many have not been so lucky.

JIMMY ADIT is a by-product of journalism’s school of hard knocks. A has-been politikus, today he relishes life in the fringes of politics. 

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