New agri, fishery direction for Sabah
Published on: Sunday, July 11, 2021
By: Datuk John Lo
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SO much wealth, why Sabah’s fishermen and farmers mired in Poverty?

One of the most important economic roles of a government is to DETERMINE WHO SHOULD GET WHAT in wealth and income distributions. Sabah’s distributions of wealth/income, especially in Agriculture/Fishery, has been in the wrong track for a very long time, resulting in many Sabahans being stuck in poverty for generations, especially in the coastal fishing villages and rural farming communities. Sabah has oil/gas, rich forests, vast track of fertile lands, and unbelievable rich marine life in Malaysia’s longest coastline. 

Despite all these gifts from GOD, many Sabahans have become economic refugees in W Malaysia. Worst is Sabah has the highest poverty and unemployment rates. This is a sad, shameful situation. Why has Sabah become the pariah state, mired in poverty with highest poverty, unemployment and massive leakages?

The underling most significant factors are:

[a] Wrong/ineffective policies/priorities in economic development. Best example is the oil palm industry. 

[b] Grossly lopsided distribution of wealth. 

Please allow me to deal on some agriculture factors in the hope that Dr Jeffry and newly appointed Director Tuan Dzulkifli will revamp Sabah’s agriculture with a totally new strategy plus policy directions that will achieve higher than his target of 60% food sufficiency, to achieve food-security for Sabah and to export food for Singapore’s food security and China’s market. 

The compelling objective is to bring economic benefits to Sabah’s rural and coastal communities.


Sabah has committed the worst agriculture blunder in allowing more than 1.8m ha [4.4m acre] because 

[a] oil palm has taken up about 90% of Sabah’s agricultural land. 

[b] It has occupied most if not all, Sabah’s best land, leaving poorer soil for Sabahan rural farmers to irk out a living. 

[c] Strategy-wise, Sabah is now burdened with a hugely dangerous situation of a MONO-CROP. This will haunt us in the future with Indonesia’s ever-expanding acreage in Kalimantan and labour shortages. 

[d] Left with 10% of poorer soil, Sabah will struggle for food sufficiency and food security has become a distant dream. Every Sabahan leader should consider this seriously! 

[e] No employment, no programme or promise to give Sabahans jobs by oil palm plantation owners. In this, they must look up to the ITP plantation owners whose work force is 100% Sabahans. 


[g] Most saddening is that Sabah has been deprived of EQUITABLE RETURNS FROM THE REVENUE OF MORE THAN RM20B GENERATED FROM OUR 1.8M HA OF OIL PALM.

Note: This wretched condition would have been dramatically different if subsequent leaders had implemented Tan Sri Harris’ allocation of 963,000 for all landless Sabahan families with 15 acres each. THEY SOLD THEM TO W MALAYSIAN companies. Some 65,000 families would have benefited. The leaders who committed this “sin” are still around today.

Reset Sabah’s Oil Palm Industry.

The recalcitrant oil palm plantation owners have blatantly ignored Sabah’s interest for decades. They have left Sabah with no choice but to rebalance the situation. There are several options that Sabah can consider:

[a] Impose additional sales tax on CPO, especially now with CPO prices having rocketed sky high. This can be in the form of “windfall tax” which the federal government has imposed and which Sabah has no share. 

[b] Sabah should impose sale tax on kernel oil which fetches higher price than CPO. No logic not to as both Sarawak and Federal Governments have imposed this tax a long time ago. 

[c] Since oil palm plantations have gobbled up 90% of Sabah’s agriculture land, we can never achieve food sufficiency. It is therefore logical for Sabah to impose 5% of the oil palm plantations of 1,000 acres upwards to cultivate food crop and/or to rear animals for meat, first for domestic consumption, later for export. Failing which, the Sabah government can impose additional land tax, the amount for which should be heavy enough to incentivize them to comply. 

If the oil palm plantation wealthy owners, who have powerful lobby, don’t like additional taxes in Sabah, they can lobby to lower federal taxes.

Food security and Safety for Sabah.

Dr Jeffry is right. Let’s be serious about food security and safety. Sabah, for no reasons except our own faults, imports more than 60% of rice and substantial amount of meat, fruits and vegie. Sabahans are forced to buy rice from monopoly suppliers. Yet, thousands of acres of padi field are uncultivated. Isn’t this stupid?

If Sabah is serious on rice sufficiency, zone sufficient area to achieve economy of scale and allow mechanisation, invite China to help. With Chinese management and technology, Sabah can be rice sufficient in 5 years. Not rocket science. 

For food safety, the authority should conduct regular analysis on vegetables, meat, seafood and other food items and publish them to protect consumers health and enhance exports, to attract overseas buyers. 

Sabah’s Prospects in Food Security and Safety for China and Singapore.

Exciting economic prospects for Sabah to supply exotic, high value agricultural products to China and Singapore if we can produce them with acceptable certifications. [a] Singapore has invested huge sum in food security in Indonesia, including its largest pig farm in Palau Balan which is next to Batam Island in Indonesia. Singapore has also invested S$3B in a food zone in Jiling in China which is twice its size. [b] China imports huge amount of tropical/exotic. Time for Sabah to organise and strategize over these prospects, cannot afford to ignore these opportunities.

Hajiji’s recent initiative to establish an office in Singapore for tourism and trade is a major step to broaden Sabah’s economic future. Let’s follow up immediately on food security with Singapore.

Land Reform, Zoning, Economy of Scale are Central.

The traditional pattern of unplanned land alienation does not allow for efficient farming and infrastructure. Present farm size and organization are not for viable commercial agriculture. At best it is for self-consumption and local markets. There is no big money in it. Central to Sabah’s agriculture’s future, Sabah must undertake land reforms, crop zoning and infrastructures for economy of scale, downstream and high value crops. It makes no sense, amateurish, to have a few hectares of 1 crop scattered here and there. 

To achieve decent economy of scale, let’s stay focus on a few high value crops. Don’t do too many. Likewise, conserve R&D funds. Better to excel in a few than being mediocre in many.

Remember, Sabah has only about 10% of agriculture land left.

From “Farm to Table Policy”.

Sabah needs to establish a “Farm to Table Policy” to progress in agriculture. Sabah has no such policy which requires considerable research and development, quality promotion and control in production, packaging, branding, marketing and logistics. 

Political Leaders, Please Prioritize Solutions on Sabah’s Major Economic Issues.

I like to conclude with my usual exhortation. I urge politicians including those in opposition, to seek solutions for Sabah’s major, critical economic issues. I don’t see this happening at all. Sabah needs real leaders with visions and commitment to solve our foundational economic problems. They won’t go away any time soon with the current petty, kindergarten politics. 

So please translate your support on Hajiji’s SOP statement onto economic issues.


Sabah’s oil palm has enabled many West Malaysians to be rich beyond their wildest dreams.


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