Some durian farmers in Raub, Pahang have taken to cutting down their own fruit trees in protest of the impending takeover of their land
A few videos have circulated the Internet, including one showing a worker felling a 50-year-old durian tree with a chainsaw while another shows an upset farmer walking through an orchard of fallen trees.
In the latter video, a man says in Cantonese that he is "letting it all go" and that the "new company" can have his land without any trees on it.
"We don't want the trees anymore. You can tell them to plant the trees themselves all over again," he said.
Hundreds of durian farmers in Raub were dissatisfied after they were accused of illegally occupying land owned by the state government
According to New Straits Times, the farmers received a warning from the Raub land office on 24 July to vacate their plantations within 30 days, or the authorities would take action and clear the land.
The state government cited growing concerns of deforestation of state-owned land to cultivate Musang King durian trees and awarded 5,357 acres of land to Royal Pahang Durian Group (RPDG) and Perbadanan Kemajuan Pertanian Negeri Pahang (PKPP) to audit and regulate the industry.
Following the award, the RPDG-PKPP joint venture, which is linked to the state's royal family, then offered existing farmers without licenses a means of legalising their plots of land by signing on as subcontracted farmers with the company.
Almost 800 durian farmers with no permits have since formed a group called the Save Musang King Alliance (SAMKA) to oppose the terms of this contract
Malaysiakini reported that SAMKA was frustrated as the durian farmers have been applying for legal land certificates for decades.
SAMKA president Wilson Chang told a press conference at a SAMKA protest in Raub yesterday, 24 August, that the government has known their existence for a long time but refused to grant them legal documents.
The alliance also does not agree with the exorbitant levy prices proposed in the agreement by RPDG-PKPP, in addition to its many other terms and conditions.
"A levy of RM6,000 per acre (with roughly 30 matured durian trees) will be imposed on the farmers. In other words, a farmer with 10 acres of land will have to pay a rent of RM60,000 this year," it said in a statement.
SAMKA said the contract also requires durian farmers to sell a fixed amount of their harvest to RPDG-PKPP every year, and farmers will not be permitted from trading freely or storing durians to be shared with family and friends.
"An entry permit is required for the farmers to go into their durian farms. Also, the farmers could even be forced to make reparations if they choose to stop farming," it highlighted, describing the situation as "modern slavery".
The protest was held in hopes that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, who is also the sultan of Pahang, could help intervene in the land dispute.
Tras assemblyman Chow Yu Hui has called on the farmers to not give up, and to stop getting rid of their trees so soon
"My advice to the farmers is please do not rush and take any drastic decisions, including cutting down the trees," he said, when contacted by New Straits Times after the videos made its rounds online yesterday.
"The durian trees are from years of hard work and slogging so do not give up easily without going the extra mile to overturn the decision," he said.
He also told the media at the protest yesterday that the Pahang government was ignoring the historic fact that these "illegal farmers" were encouraged into farming by the government in the 1970s in the first place.
"This is history. Royal Pahang Durian completely ignored this part of history and the state government also chose to forget this," he said, urging the company to withdraw their accusations and to apologise to the farmers.
According to Malaysiakini, Pahang enforcement authorities have already begun to set up roadblocks at the entrances of unlicensed durian plantations in Raub this morning, 25 August.