Between the Orang Asli and the Musang King
By Hafidz Baharom
For the past two years, there has been constant news of how the Orang Asli’s have raised barricades to stop logging activities. It later came to light that these loggers were also planning on opening durian orchards.
As such, with the change in government, news is coming up one again that the loggers and durian planters have started challenging the barricades once again.
For those not in the know, issues involving land and minerals other than petroleum is directly under the purview of the state governments, not the federal government.
While not exactly under federal government control, the federal government has been known to impose rules stopping the states from going overboard. One such instance is the moratorium on bauxite exports that we have seen in the past, and I believe is still ongoing.
Challenges in court against the state and the planters by the Orang Asli community has not seen any positive resolution at all. And at the same time, the situation will be untenable in the long run as law will overrule the rights of the Orang Asli over the land. In Kelantan, it is even worse as the state has not seen it in their constitution or even regulations to cater for Orang Asli’s at all.
Thus, there is no provision by the state to gazette any land reserves for the Orang Asli community.
So perhaps a great way to settle this would be to consider how to move forward in a sustainable way. And one such way is to demand that plantations are not unilateral plantations. In other words, it’s not just durians being planted but a variety of fruit harvests together.
Secondly, all such plantations must also establish Orang Asli settlements and also gazette areas for the Orang Asli to continue with their practices. On top of this, establishing a settlement could also involve setting up eco-tourism sites under the supervision of the Orang Asli as well.
Such encampments, coupled with the close proximity to durians and the ability to learn the Orang Asli culture, will be a tourist draw for all.
The state, imposing a tourism tax, will also benefit from this practice. In fact, having such encampments in these durian orchards would also allow agro-tourism, in also teaching how both planters and the Orang Asli community can work together sustainably, to keep a horticultural ecosystem.
Could more be done on top of this?
From a federal government standpoint, to stop profiteering and even halt states from logging and even continued harassment of the Orang Asli community, the government can do the same as it did with the bauxite mining in the past – imposing a moratorium on durian exports. This will hurt traders and planters who will then look to local consumption.
As such, it would halt the need for durian plantations and also undo the state government’s avarice to sell land to durian planting companies.
Another way for state government’s or even the federal government can intervene to stop the planting and profiting of durians without consideration to the Orang Asli is this – establish an Orang Asli fund by imposing a windfall tax on durian traders – basically trading durians as we would a commodity such as palm oil.
The money collected from the tax should be administered directly by the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) to further develop the rights and privileges for the OA community nationwide.
These are just random thought, but doing any of these steps, would help the Malaysian Orang Asli community fund themselves for their own betterment rather than be left high and dry by both the state and federal governments of this country.
There should be continuous consideration into how both the planters and the indigenous community can find an amicable solution – the state needs cash, the OA community needs their livelihood from the forests on sale by the state. To find a balance between the two would be fruitful for both sides.