Press statement by Parliamentary Opposition Leader and DAP Secretary- General, Lim Kit Siang on Tuesday, 15th September 1981.
DAP calls on the Pepper Marketing Board to establish a $10 million pepper stockpile to save the pepper farmers from destitution.
I welcome the announcement by the Pepper Marketing Board Chairman, Datuk Leonard Linggi Jugah, on the board’s establishment of a $4 million scheme to buy pepper from farmers at reasonable process before exporting direct to terminal markets.
Although belated, the Pepper Marketing Board’s action is a step in the right direction to help the pepper farmers who are mostly to be found in Sarawak who had been very hard hit by the continuous dip in pepper prices leading to massive destruction of pepper plants in Sarawak.
When I was in Sarawak in early August, I had the opportunity to see for myself the terrible state of the pepper farmers who were squeezed between low pepper prices and escalating prices of imported fertilizers and agri-chemicals on the one hard, and galloping inflation on the other hand. I was shocked by the indifference shown by the authorities concerned in particular the Pepper Marketing Board.
At the DAP Sarawak State Ordinary Convention held in Sarikei, the heart of the pepper industry, I had called on the government to establish an emergency pepper price stabilization scheme by
1. starting a government stockpile to buy white and black pepper from farmers at reasonable prices;
2. to introduce a new subsidy to farmers based in pepper sales as distinct from the present subsidy which is based on the number of pepper plants;
3. subsidise the pepper farmers more effectively with regard to cheap fertilizers and insecticides;
4. opening up more land to distribute to pepper farmers to plant or diversify crops to stabilize their income;
5. to overhaul the Pepper Marketing Board to more aggressively seek out new markets for pepper and also to process and up-grade the quality of pepper to make it more competitive against Brazilian, Indian and Indonesian competitors.
When I returned to Kuala Lumpur from Sarawak, I met the Agriculture Minister, Datuk Abdul Manan Osman, on 18th Ogos and called on the Federal Government to institute contingency plans to help the pepper farmers. The Minister said that this is basically a Sarawak state matter but expressed his concern and promised to pursue the matter with the Sarawak State authorities.
I am glad that something is now being done by the Pepper Marketing Board but clearly the $4 million scheme announced by the board is grossly inadequate, not only inadequate to save the pepper farmers from destitution, but also to restore Malaysia’s foremost position as the leading pepper producer representing 30% of the total world output.
The pepper farmers in Sarawak are the most worst hit because some 92% of pepper production come from Sarawak, with 7% from Johore and 1% from Sabah. About 30,000 families involving 120,000 people are directly or indirectly dependant on pepper cultivation. The Pepper Marketing Board must now proceed to work out a comprehensive plan to salvage the pepper industry and as first step the establishment of a $10 million stockpile should warrant immediate priority.
Under the Fourth Malaysia Plan, pepper is expected to rank as the fourth most important agricultural export commodity after rubber, palm oil and cocoa. This objective is unlikely to be achieved unless a more vigorous policy is adopted by the Pepper Marketing Board.