‘Kuhara was named after Hitachi, Nissan founder’
Published on: Sunday, April 14, 2019
By: Christy Chok

TAWAU: Chairman of the Incorporated Society of Planters Sabah-Tawau branch Anthony Tsen foresaw the Crude Palm Oil  (CPO) prices in Malaysia being on a volatile and instability trend while cost of production continue to increase. 

Anthony, the former estate manager at Borneo Abaca Limited (BAL) in the 80s, said the industry these days face trying times.

He said under the circumstances all planters and smallholders must be trained well especially in cost control and management skills, in order to survive. “It is also important for them to maintain and improve their productivity and workers; as long as they do not suffer losses,” he said.

He described palm oil as the easiest in comparison with other crops; yet, it is a “skilful job”. A genius or successful planter must continue to equip himself/herself with up-to-date knowledge and skills other than self-discipline, honestly and integrity.

He said oil palm owes its present in Tawau to the Japanese.

During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army landed in Tawau on Jan 24, 1942 and left, after losing the war on Aug 15, 1945 (an occupation period of 3.5 years). They formally surrendered in Labuan on Sept 11, 1945.

The Japanese started the initial planting and they chose Tawau for its good soil and suitable climate. In 1948, the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC London) registered BAL to take over and rehabilitate Japanese Estates in Kuhara, British North Borneo (as Sabah was called in those days).

CDC’s main task was to support development projects throughout Africa and South Asia to create jobs and improve their economies. Kuhara was named after Fusanosuke Kuhara who was the Minister of Communications of Japan and the founder of Hitachi and Nissan, which are today multinational firms.

Anthony said the first crops (planted by the Japanese) were Abaca (Manila Hemp) on Table Estate and rubber on Kuhara Rubber Estate (now called Imam Estate). Both Merotai and Tiger Estates were from new jungle clearing.

BAL’s initial capital was held by CDC and Harrisons and Crosfield Limited. BAL Plantations comprised two properties – Borneo Abaca 10,000ha (four estates) just outside Tawau town and Mostyn 5,000ha (two estates) just outside Kunak town. Mostyn Estates Limited was a subsidiary of Borneo Abaca Limited.

He said BAL was a very unique plantation even until today. It was the only property where the three main tropical crops of rubber, cocoa and oil palm oil. They had a good team mixed with locals, Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Indonesians, Cocos and Filipinos.

Training was extended to government cadets, vocational school students and executives from Cameroon (Africa). Sports and games emphasised for both staffs and workers in team-spirit. They competed not only within the estate groups but also with other Tawau clubs, police and outside plantations as well. 

Adding, the field standard was good and production was high in spite of numerous early challengers- no heavy machines for land clearing, no polybags for nurseries and no hight-tech tools for field operations.

Life was also tough when they first started with only weekly film show at the club, lights off at 10p.m., difficult outside communications and slippery earth roads (no internet, no hand-phone, no TV and no air-cond cars). However, they lived well and happy.

During the time, Bugis from Sulawesi (Indonesia) were the main immigrant workers in new developments, upkeep and harvest. They also had Chinese and Indian tappers in the early years.

He disclosed that BAL had a 6,000 workforce and they were very stable with hardly any social problem. They were also well-looked after by the first Sabah Plantation Industry Employees Union, even with different races, religions, cultures and backgrounds, both staff and workers were like one big family.

“Looking back, our success today resulted from BAL’s strict discipline, training and ethical awareness. Our strengths are work hard, play hard, firm and fair. This shows that our strong performance is recognised. BAL had a plural society and practicing great unity.

“We gave total dedication to the company and left a memorable legacy within the short 48 years’ history of BAL’s success and achievements. Welfare, medical, research, engineering and education services were well provided and managed by professionals,” he expressed.

According to him, BAL had a good reputation for excellence and was regarded as a model plantation. Ex-BAL planters are still in great demand, indeed.

BAL had held a reunion dinner at a hotel here recently which was attended by 90 participants, comprising ex-BAL colleagues, executives and members from locals and overseas. Besides that, they also had their “down memory lane” at Bukit Tiger Estate (height 407.9m).

Organising chairman Lee Pee Chong said, now after more than 22 years of silence (when the property was acquired by Golden Hope in 1996), BAL’s name become alive again with the first reunion in September 2018, which a big group celebrated by 372 participants comprising staff and the second generation children.


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