11/12/2010 (The Star Online), Kuching - The Sarawak Government will continue to add to its existing 1mil hectares land bank earmarked for oil palm plantations, once more native customary rights (NCR) land titles are issued.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said “hundreds of thousands more hectares” of oil palm estates was possible, pending the settlement and issuance of more NCR titles.
Speaking Saturday at Sarawak United National Youth Organisation (Saberkas) event, Taib reiterated that oil palm would be the main generator of wealth in rural areas and among the Bumiputra community.
In saying that however, he also acknowledged the industry and NCR had attracted controversy from some segments of the public. The problem lay in the lack of precision in old methods of land ownership.
“It is not a question of the law, but the lack of precision in the old style of owning land when converting into modern land laws,” Taib told the gathering, in his speech about bridging urban-rural income gaps.
“Old style of land ownership was based on marks between one rock and another rock, or between one tree and another tree. For decades, this state has been ‘forced’ to overcome such matters in courts. But in this kind of matters, litigation is not always best.”
Taib, a qualified lawyer, called on disputes to be settled via negotiation.
For the state to transform, what was most important was a change in mindset, he said.
“The process of using common sense and to open up the mind, so to speak, is what this state needs. We have to harness that thinking power to do whatever we have to do in the best way.”
Part of the problems faced in Sarawak on oil palm development, he added, was because large-scale estates were new to many. “In Sarawak, until recent history, we’ve never had estates.”
He also said the educated segment concentrated in the urban areas should advise and encourage their rural counterparts to be more progressive.
“You know that even with just 1mil hectares, it will spur on so many other industries, from transportation to marketing, from exports to research. We’ve got to harness the pioneering spirit for people to able to begin small, grow their incomes and businesses, and create a chain reaction.”
In recent years, Sarawak has emerged as the fastest state in Malaysia to open up new palm oil estates. Presently, there is already 920,000 hectares compared with 840,000 hectares just a year ago.
Last month, Land Development Minister Datuk Seri James Masing told The Star the state’s plan was to double its plantation area to two million hectares by 2020, making Sarawak the biggest producer in the country.
Masing said there was an estimated 1.5 million hectares of NCR land, mostly under-utilised and without titles, and that the Sarawak government had identified several large tracts of state land for plantation projects.
Masing said Sarawak’s crude and processed palm oil exports were worth RM4.56bil last year, adding that industry had emerged as the state’s third-largest foreign exchange earner, after petroleum and liquified natural gas.