Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Malaysia Rural Definition

I was invited to facilitate a workshop on the preparation of action plans for the implementation of Malaysia’s Rural Master Plan. The Ministry of Rural and Regional Development Malaysia, has launched Rural Master Plan on 12 October 2010 and a workshop for the preparation of its action plans was conducted on December 12-15, at Glory Hotel in Port Dickson. The workshop was attended by 130 persons from various agencies involved in the development of rural areas.  Malaysia’s Rural Master Plan is basically a strategic plan to guide the development of rural areas in 10 years period until 2020. The document contains the strategic issues, vision, objectives, strategies and programmes. It is comparable to rural strategies in many countries in the west such as Rural Strategy in England. 
Workshop session  in Port Dickson December, 12-15 2010

In my group discussion we were asked to review the rural definition in the plan document since it received some comments/feedback from several agencies. We also looked into the indicators to monitor the plan’s progress and to suggest measures to improve rural data and information system.  The group come out with a revise definition but still based on basic operational definition by the department of statistics. It was argued that the definition by the Statistics Department (residue of urban) would stand since all the data collected in the population census were base on that definition. To ignore the Statistic Department’s definition would make classification of data difficult and may cause confusion since the statistics on rural areas in the past has been referred to the boundaries referred to by the Statistics Department.  
Rural definition in the Rural Master Plan

“Kawasan yang mempunyai penduduk kurang daripada 10,000 dengan mempunyai ciri-ciri kawasan pertanian dan sumber alam semulajadi di mana penduduknya tinggal sama ada secara berkelompok, sejajar atau bertaburan”.
Areas with population less than 10,000 people having agriculture and natural resources in which its population either clustered, linear or scattered.

But there were several concerned by the participants.
a.       The definition does not address the variation/diversity of rural areas in the country;
b.      There was concern whether rural areas under the new boundary of local authorities included under the definition of rural in the Master Plan.
c.       Some ministries such as the Ministry of Education classify their operation under three categories, urban, rural and remote rural.
d.      Some rural agencies did provide services in settlements at the fringe of urban areas and under local authorities’ areas.

Rural Definition Suggested
Rural as area outside urban including settlements with population less than 10,000 people, agriculture area, forest and water bodies.

Workshop on Action  Plan  for implementing  Malaysia's Rural Master Plan
To address the concerned on the rural variation, we also suggested the need to  categorize  rural region based on the concept of rurality. For the purpose, the methodology used by OCED was adopted by subjected to detail study  to look into application of actual data.  OCED define rural based on density. A locality is considered rural if the population density is less than 150 person per square kilometer. Based on the definition the regions with certain level of populations live in rural localities are classified into three categories, predominantly urban, significantly rural and predominantly rural.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tracking Wild Honey Bees in Tropical Forest

I reached Kampung Jejak Seberang, a remote village in Kuala Pilah, about 11.30 am on Nov 28, 2010. The purpose was to meet Zailani or Zai, an experience wild-bee’s honey collector in the area and to make an arrangement with him to collect samples of wild-bee's honey in a few locations within the region for a research. I knew Zai about ten years back when I took a group of students to make observation on how rural people harvest the bee's honey in the forest.  I remembered  that we spend  six hours  at night ten years ago  in the forest at Sungai Talam, not far from the village.  We observed how  a group of village people lead by Zai  managed to bring down wild-bee's honey from a  25 meter-tall tualang tree.
When I met Zai, he did not recognize me since it was a long time ago we met.  Then I mentioned to him, “Do you remember that I and a group of students went with you to collect  bee's  honey in the forest, and throughout that night we heard the continuous roaring of a tiger not far from us?”  Zai said, “Yes!  You are a professor from UTM...“.  
Backdrop view of Kampung Jejak Seberang

He mentioned that the place was at Sungai Talam Forest not far from the village. It was very rare to encounter a tiger in the forest and that’s why he can easily recalled back the experience when I mentioned it. Zai said that the bee’s season normally started from February and ended sometime in August. This was the period when many trees were flowering, including fruits trees (such as durian, mango, rambutan), wild flower trees and also rubber trees. He said bees take honey from any flowers that are not poisonous. He said wild bees collect honey from 99 flowers of different kinds. He also mentioned on three different species of bees, which he called Tampoi (yellow in color), Nyenyolong (a bit long), and Beruang (black color). The first kind (tampoi) normally produces very little honey in the hive and not worth the effort to collect it. The other two species have lots of honey.
Zai was born in Java in 1944, came to the Malaysia in 1969, and settled down in the village in 1976 when married to the local. He has 9 children, in which three are married and the youngest one aged 17. He began collecting wild-bee's honey when he was 20s, but was more actively involved starting from 1981 at the age of 37. But collecting honey is his occasional job; the main jobs are tapping rubber trees and production of brown sugar from enau palm. Sometimes he was hired to do other kinds of village works such as chopping down tree and clearing of farm land. 

Brown sugar from enau palm; the juice collected from the flower stalk of the palm is boiled for 6 hours until it almost dry; a little coconut powder is added  to turn it into a solid form
The flower stalk has to be knocked with a stick/hard object about 30 minutes each day for about a week before it is ready to be cut and produce juicy liquid for a month. Each day it  could produce about four liters of juice.

Zai ‘harvest’ wild-bee's honey during the night. First he has to search for the bees hive in the forest or sometime gets information from friends including Orang Asli who work in the forest. When the honey is matured to be collected Zai will call a few friends to prepare for the harvest which include:
Cutting bamboo to make spikes/nails for the trail on the tree.
Prepare a bundle of dry coconut leaves for making fire to remove/clear bees from hive.
The final task is to cut the portion of the hive that contain honey into a container and bring it down using a rope.

The most tedious one is to make trail on the tree trunk by hammering the bamboo spikes into the trunk and climbing the tree which may be as high as 25 meters and could be towards the further part of the tree branch.
Upon reaching the hive, the bundle of dry leaves is put on fire and when the leaves is shook  the red dust of fire will fall down  to the ground. All the bees at the hive will fly towards the red dust of fire leaving the hive safe for removing the honey. This work well when the sky is dark. For instant when there is moon light,  as what I experienced ten years ago we had to wait till late mid-night for the moon to disappear, then the burning could begun.
 According to Zai wild-bee's honey now very difficult to get because forest has been cleared for palm oil plantation. In addition there are many collectors such as among Orang Asli who used to harvest the honey during daytime and used insect's spray to kill the bees before they can safely collect the honey in the hive. This method could make bees extinct or non sustainable.
At the end of the meeting we decided sometimes in March 2011 for the bee's tracking to collect samples of honey for research in lab… to be continued…

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yangon Experience

The news of the release of  the Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Nov 13,2010 urged me to write something about my experience in conducting a study in Yangon  a few years back.  I  still can recall my memory on my experiences  encountered  with the people of Yangon and the military ruled government. 
Pagoda- landmark of Yangoon City

Informal economic activities were common on Yangoon streets

At the fringe of Yangon
Sometime in 2004,  I was appointed as one of the consultants to prepare Yangon Region Strategic Development Plan under the auspice of Malaysian Government, related to the service  as agreed under  Technical Corporation. My task was to look into demography and human resource and I visited twice to Yangon city to collect information and make presentation of the study.
 My first visit to Yangon was in October 2004.  I visited a few government departments including Yangon Municipality, Statistics Department,   Ministry of Labor, and Economic Planning Division. In the Statistics Department I met a few staffs who graduated from ANU the same school where I obtained my MA in Demography. Information was difficult to obtain not only because of the strict bureaucratic procedures but also there were no much information available.  Under the junta rule, the country economic progress was slow and sanctions imposed by the western governments limit international trades and foreign investments.  Due to the financial limitation faced by the government, no population census was carried out since the last one in 1980. After this period only limited surveys were carried out under UNDP and the basic statistics on population were based on estimate.

Yangon is the capital city of Myanmar with population about 4.35 million in 2005. We were told that there were a million more people who commuted into Yangon during daytime earning their living in the city. What surprised me when first arrived in the city was that too many informal traders on the streets, selling varieties of goods from second hand books to painting, foods, fruits, vegetable, apparel to telephone services and etcetera.   We can see many people walking on the streets. Busses ,vans and train were main modes of travel, with few private cars. Since utilization of public transport was high (model split about 85 percent ratio public to private vehicle), the problem of traffic congestion was less severe, but at particular junctions on main roads in the city. Many people male and female wore sarong. People were generally looking thin and fit reflecting the difficulty of earning a living in the city. Another thing that surprised me was that I could see many Buddhist monks wearing the orange-garment in the streets. In my mind it seemed  that Yangon  could be the centre for Buddhism,  similar to Mecca for the Islam. In fact there were many big temples  in the city which  attract tourists. 

Large statue  in the temple
During my second visit in September 2005, after presentation on the progress report (interim), I took a taxi to the fringe of Yangon to look into the rural area. I visited a temple in the outskirt of the city and a school. The temple was well maintain and taking care of.  It seemed that people put a lot of efforts and sacrifice to religion and the teaching  activities as could be seen from the gathering of people there  and reflected in the physical development as well . But the government school was  poor and lack of facilities.  Houses in the villages at the fringe of Yangon were small and in poor condition, village roads were paved but lack of maintenance. 
But Myanmar was endowed with many kinds of minerals. They are rich in gold, copper, tin, iron, jade and stones used for jewelry.  But need to be careful when buying  jewelry in the market, particularly gold jewelry- a lot of fake! 
Primary School at the fringe of Yangoon City

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Field visit - Desa Sidomulyo in Indonesia

The visit  to Desa Sidomulyo was arranged after the Conference in Semarang on Nov 2010. I went to Semarang with Yusof Ahmad on Nov 8, and considered lucky since on that particular day Air Asia managed to fly to Solo after canceling all the flight to Solo, Yogyakarta and Bandung on Nov 6 and  7, due to Mt Merapi eruption which contaminated the sky with volcanic ash.  On approaching Solo, I could see the effect of the volcanic ash where the sky was hazy and could not see anything far beyond, although on the ground it seemed to be cleared. That could be the reason for the cancellation of the flights from Nov 9 onward.
The conference (The first International Conference on Regional Development: Vulnerability, resilience and Sustainability) started on Nov 9, and I was asked to be a moderator for the plenary session in the morning and the next day presented a paper on Regional Development in Malaysia. 
Photograph session at the Conference

There were a wide variety of papers ranges from outlining the concepts of sustainable development to detail studies on specific topics at regional and local levels.  Disaster management seemed to be popular topics presented by a number of participants. There were a few good papers but overall mixture of focus between regional and local development.  However, sustainable development seemed to be receiving more attention by academics and practitioners in Indonesia. The occurrence of frequent disasters that  had caused devastating effects to the property and life of the society as well as  pressure on limited  resources could trigger increased awareness and alert on issues related to sustainability.  
Me, Pak Agung, Prof. Wawoeroentoe (left back) Dr David Wadley (behind)
We visited Desa Sidomulyo in Demak district on Nov 11, after meeting with Drs Agus Suryono and officials at Badan Penelitian dan Pengembangan Provinsi Java Tengah in Semarang.   In Demak we also met officials of Kabupaten Office .
Desa Sidomulyo- jambu air planted in the economic cluster concept
 Desa Sidomulyo is basically located on low land area; paddy is the main crop but due to economic cluster initiative the villagers had decided   to plant jambu air as a new crop along with paddy.    We can see jambu air everywhere, in the house compounds, along village streets, river banks, irrigation canals and on the bounds of the paddy fields.  
Jambu  air  are also planted in the paddy field

The houses looked beautiful, the floor a bit up from the ground with pillars placing on small foundation blocks. The traditional Javanese design of the house used local materials- wooded structure, and mud-tile roof. Village road mostly unpaved, with holes patching the   muddy surfaces. 
Traditional house at the village
Planting jambu air can provide good income to the village people, the price normally maintain around   Rupiah 6000 (RM2.50) per kg. The main challenge is marketing, need to send to cities soon after harvest since it can last only three days if left expose but a few days longer if properly wrap and store in cool temperature. So far it has not yet penetrates international market. Jambu air tree produce fruit twice per year (November/Mei) and a matured jampu tree (about 6 years old) can produce about 70 kg of fruits each season.  
Jambu air-  sweet- juicy, soft and crunchy
In Indonesia the  economic forums are the platforms for farmers to meet and co-operative. Problems were discussed and some of the important decision were made during the meeting.
irrigation canal in the village

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Exploring the strategic minds of the rural Malaysians- The Village Action Plan Experiences

My best contribution to the development of rural area so far is through the ‘Village Action Plan’ initiatives. When I was appointed as member of advisory committee of the Institute for Rural Advancement (INFRA), from 2007-2009, I was asked to prepare a module for training the village people, in particular the JKKK and their representatives, to prepare ‘Village Action Plan’.  The Village Action Plan is a planning document which contains statements about problems and the apparent development potential of a village, its priorities, and objectives, and the preferred development proposals in the form of projects, and programmes to achieve the development objectives of the village. The document also has maps, and diagrams to support and clarify the proposals together with justifications of proposals, the preferred time frame of implementation and cost.
Village Action Plan launched by PM, Jan, 2009
We did pioneer projects of 17 villages including one each in Sabah and Sarawak. I personally involved in facilitating the workshops in 11 villages and based on the experiences  we came out with a manual which explain step-by-step on  how to conduct  workshop  in a village for the preparation of  the village action plan. The Village Action Plan was later officially  launched by PM (Tun Abdullah) for  national adoption in January, 2009. 

Welcome to Sabah-'Sumazau Dance'
The  planning approach of the village action plan is to enable active participation of the village people in bringing out experiences, ideas and detail actions for the development of their villages. In each villages we targeted around 20-40 people to participate (depending on the population size of the village). Interestingly, and as expected, we found that the village people were able to express clearly their needs and aspirations. The diverse ranges of  knowledge available   among the participants, especially knowledge acquired through their life experiences, were useful in the process of the identification of problems, potentials, priorities and development proposals for village development. 
My best experiences were conducting workshops in Sabah and Sarawak. In Sabah, Kampung Talantang of Marudu districts was selected for the pioneer project in August, 2008. It was based on my recommendation, since a few years before my students and me visited the village for an academic assignment in which we stayed  at the village for three nights.  The villagers belong to the Kadazan Dusun ethnic group, majority were Christian with a few Muslim families. Many were engaged in paddy cultivation on the low land  but a few did have land in the hilly area planted with rubber, fruits or cash crops.
The Talantang Village-Kadazan Dusun
A team of  16 people, including three from UTM, David Preston and Rosemary from Oxford, three INFRA officials in Bangi, three INFRA officials in Sabah and three camera crews visited the village. My UTM team and INFRA officials assisted in facilitating the workshop and input on basic understanding of planning and running of workshop was given by me since I was the one who prepare the module. INFRA did engaged consultant to make video to be used for training  later.
Workshop participants and facilitators

Beautiful view of River flowing through Talantang village

The workshop was conducted in a  village community hall. All together 35 village people participated in the workshop  representing various background, including farmer, members of village committee, Church, women, youth and teacher. Workshop sessions run  smoothly for two days, with discussion in  a large group in the first two sessions to come up with problems, potentials and  visions. The next  two sessions the participants were divided into four smaller groups to discuss development proposals and a detail project each with costing.
Active participation of the village people during a workshop session in Talantang
In Sarawak, an Iban Long House in Lundu was selected. UTM team, INFRA officials and camera crews attended.  We stayed at the long house for two nights. The exercise was similar except this time the workshop was conducted at the corridor/balcony of the long house.  The outcome was good since the longhouse people were used to conduct activities on the corridor and more people attended because it was near their apartments. More women, particularly housewives  participated, most of them were not working, but their involvement in the discussions were brilliant.    
Briefing on village action preparation at an Iban Longhouse, Lundu Sarawak
Participant presented their ideas at the end of a workshop session

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Flying on Helicopter to Interior Sarawak

In January 2010, I was invited to represent UTM group for a meeting and field trip in Sarawak with VIPs from Federal Agencies, headed by  the Secretary of PM, Dato’ Sahlan. The meeting was in the afternoon January 18, at Chief Minister Office. We were briefed  on the progress of development projects and problems faced by rural settlements in the Baram river basin of Sarawak.  Basic problems related to  infrastructure  such as poor conditions of road system, water supply,  electricity, need for bridges to cross rivers, and  communication. 

The condition of the road to Pekan Marudi after  heavy rain a  day before
There was discussion on possibility of involving UTM to study  an integrated project linking the construction of micro dam to supply of water for drinking and irrigation of paddy area in Barrio. One of the road project linking Lawas, Bekalalang and Bario was under construction and involved construction of 12 bridges. Some of the settlements did encounters flood problems particular during monsoon season. In term of economy it was the stability of income the main concern. Many people engaged in farming, and some worked with logging companies.
This helicopter can take up to five persons.

On the January 19, we went for field trip to Baram area. Starting from Miri airport in the morning, we travelled by 4-WD to Pekan Marudi. More than 20 people took part in the trip, including the MPs, officials of federal and states government. The road connecting Miri to Marudi was in very poor condition- unpaved, soft, undulating in some places, and it took two hours to reach the first destination. At Pekan Marudi  we visited a few places that was affected by flood and river erosion. After lunch we  continued the journey by helicopter to long houses at Sg Bong Tinjar, Long Teran dan Sg Seliping. The trip to Sg Bong Tijar took about 30 minutes, and we arrived at about 3 pm . We stayed there for 20 minutes, briefed by  head of the village on problem of flood, deteriorated school buildings  need to be replaced, and  water supply (currently collected from rain). Then we moved to Long Teran, after visited the surrounding area, observed the bridge site and was served with some local food. We  then proceeded to Sungai Seliping, landing at school field and went to the Long Teran Long house. Same basic infrastructure problems were mentioned, flood, water supply and road network.  It was already 5 pm and we have three more villages to visit. From Seliping we continued our journey by 4WD, stop for prayer at Petronas station on the way then reach Entulang Long house about 7 pm. After short briefing and feedback from the villagers we moved on to Sg Buri and the last one  we stopped at Sungai Liam Long house. At Sungai Liam dinner was served - prepared by teachers from Semenanjung who teached at a school near the village. Knowing that many guests were Muslim, they seek help from Muslim teachers to prepare the food. We reached our hotel at Miri about mid-night.
The view of Long House at Sungai Bong Tijar
The second day field trip was more interesting, departed about 9am from Miri airport by helicopter to Limbang area. It was quite a long journey to 3 destinations, Ulu Lubai, Long Napir, Long Mendamit. On helicopter I could see aerial view  of the rural land uses and how Sarawak had transformed its rural landscape into vast palm oil plantations.  We could see forest  only when approaching highland areas towards Limbang. 
Vast area of land in Sarawak has been transformed into palm oil plantations

It's surprising that there is a cluster school which won excellent award at such remote area in Ulu Lumbai. We can see all the colourful display of graphic materials  and phrases on corridors, walls and in the small gardens outside. From my observations of villages in Sarawak,  the best achievement that we should be proud of  is  that, although the places may be lacking of infrastructure but the basic education facilities at primary level are mostly available or accessible. In all schools that I came across in the villages, there were a few teachers from Peninsular Malaysia. The language taught at school  has been spreading to the communities at large and Malay language thus becomes medium of communication especially for visitors like me.
School facility at Ulu Lumbai village was impressive
Computer room at Ulu Lumbai Cluster School
One of the garden in the school area

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Short Journey to Semenchu

Our visit to Semenchu is part of the students assignment to assess the  sustainability of the community using a set of indicator. We planned to stay there for two nights, starting the journey from UTM Campus  on Friday, October 16,  at 3 pm  and returned on Sunday. There were 12 students involved  –four  Iranians, one Nigerian, one Pakistani, one Saudi and the rest local. We went by two students’ cars and a faculty  vehicle-4WD Fortuner. This was the first time  I drove the Fortuner which  was purchased by the faculty early this year. But, I found  easy to drive  it since my car is  also Toyota  brand with automatic gear and has almost similar  setting  such as the gear, signal , wiper, and lighting switches. On the way we stopped at a restaurant in Felda Ari Tawar 5, before  proceeded to the Semenchu. We arrived in Semenchu about 5.30 pm.
Master Students, Urban & Regional Planning 2010
Semenchu is a settlement  developed by the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA).  The scheme includes farmland, infrastructure and amenities (housing, basic facilities, road and utilities), processing and marketing. It was aimed to provide opportunities for the poor rural people to improve their standard of living  through agricultural, industrial and businesses activities carried out professionally and profitably. Each settler was allocated 10 acres farmland   and  a housing plot of a quarter acre. Those eligible people  in rural areas were selected to become settlers after screening (based on criteria such as experience in farming, income, marital status, dependents) and interview processes. In Semenchu, most of  them came from within Johor State such as  the districts of Muar, Batu Pahat and Pontian. The first group of settlers  entered the scheme in 1976 and last batch 1981. Altogether, there are 628 settlers/houses in the scheme, sub-divided into 27 blocks (each block have around 24 houses).

The new variety of palm oil take only three years to bear fruits. The oil content is about 26 percents of its weight.

The homestay program in Semenchu started in 2004 and  102 of the settlers  participated. We stayed at four of the homestay houses. From our experience the facilities of the homestay were good, with clean toilet, well maintain rooms and furniture in the houses. Students have opportunities to visit farms, palm oil factory, participate in sports and culture performance.  We were also invited to attend  the marriage ceremony.

Cutting across the palm oil fruit. The fully pollinated one have four layers.  
In May 2010, a group of UG students did a survey on FELDA Settlers' Satisfaction. The survey covered 12 FELDA settlements in Johor. Members of settlers' household were interviewed including Settlers, Wives, Children and Grand Children. The survey was part of the study undertaken by FELDA to find out the perception of settlers' population on various programmes that has been implemented to improve standard of living.  I did supervise the students' survey, and while students were conducting the survey I took opportunities to travel around the settlement and talked to a few people including the Felda officials and settlers. Generally, the settlers were satisfied with their living condition and the programmes implemented by FELDA. Some of the issues raised related to replanting scheme undertaken by the subsidiary company of FELDA (Technoplant), including weaknesses in the management of the plantation (earlier phase); delay in transferring of land title, and fractionism  in certain scheme related to differences in political view/affiliation. Most of the settlement schemes has to employ foreign labourers to work in plantation because the original settlers are already too old to undertake the job. While young people in the schemes tended to work in cities which are more suitable for the nature of education they received. Many of the younger generation permanently migrated upon getting job outside or married, but some did commute to places of work.
Group of UG students that conducted the survey
During the survey in Tenggaroh students stayed with the settlers

Facts about Palm Oil Cultivation

Each Felda settlers own 10 acres of plantation land and a quarter acre of house plot
Number of tree per acre: 55
Production for 10 acre: low season- 3 tons per month; high season- 8 tons per month (August to October)
Fertilizer: 2 kg per tree and 4 times per year/ 4 tons per year for 10 acres
Cost of fertilizer (FELDA): RM1100 per ton
Labour cost for harvest: small tree RM20 per ton/ big tree-RM30 per ton
Cost of transportation of fruit to factory- varies from RRM25-RM35 per ton depending on distance.