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Thursday, July 20, 2017

‘Many sneered at Felda during its early days’

The journey of the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) from resettling the rural poor to owning various global ventures is not as easy as some might think.
It was established on July 1, 1956, for the development of land and relocation with the objective of poverty eradication through the cultivation of oil palm and rubber.
The Felda economic development deputy director-general in Ab Ghani Mohd Ali said many sneered at the idea of Felda during its early days.
“Before Felda became as successful as it is today, many looked down upon its developments as at the time the roads were still dusty, there were no electricity or water supply and the houses built only had one or two rooms.
“However, its development quickly picked up speed in the 1980s and this caused a shift in perception among onlookers. This was further bolstered by the urban development policies in Felda settlements,” he told Bernama in an interview recently.
Felda is known as the legacy of Malaysia’s second prime minister, the late Abdul Razak Hussein. It has come a long way since.
“Felda used to focus on the basics which are the cultivation of oil palm, rubber, cocoa, and sugar cane. However, one of the cores of Felda is to go global and so we became involved at all levels of our venture - from upstream to downstream.
“We used to be involved from the planting of oil palm to its marketing and the sales of oil palm-based products, but today we have Felda and Felda Global Ventures (FGV). Through these two entities, we are able to increase the balance and payment to settlers and downstream industries by FGV,” he said.
Was Felda able to achieve Razak’s goal to eradicate poverty, develop rural areas and improve the economy?
Ghani believed that in terms of poverty eradication, the goal was fulfilled. However, Felda still needed to persist in the effort.
“We must not only maintain but also sustain the effort. This means that there needs to be added value to it, as is done by the son of Razak, our Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak,” he said.
Five core objectives
Having served Felda since 1981, Ghani said Felda never skewed from its goal of developing land for settlers and improving the economic standing of the group.
Felda runs on five core objectives, namely to turn Felda communities into model rural communities, for settler communities to join the high-income group, for Felda to go global, to develop potential for the new generation and strengthen its culture as an institution.
“We want to bring Felda to a global level and to go global, Felda must have money. Its settler communities must be of the high-income group,” he said.
Felda today has set foot in over 15 countries and launched a number of private corporate entities and engaged in a diversified range of economic development and business activities. FGV is considered to be the world’s largest plantation operator with plantations in Malaysia and across the world.
When Felda was first established, it recruited settlers from among the rural Malay poor with the condition that they must be between 18 and 45 years of age and married.
Today, Felda is home to the third generation of settlers whom Ab Ghani believes would play an important role in helping Felda go global.
“Our selection of the fields that need to be developed are not based on interest alone but a detailed and organised plan. To ensure that everything runs smoothly, we would need the support of the government, the local youths, and local leadership.
“There need to be clear-cut policies. The youths or younger generation of Felda settlers that wish to engage in the plans laid out need to have not only interest but the discipline to follow through,” he said.
The country’s rapid development has also given Felda spillover benefits. Felda Chiku and Kechau, for example, are now settlements that have several highways linked to it.
This not only benefits the settlers but it has also changed the belief that Felda settlements are usually located in the “neck of the woods”.
Ab Ghani also spoke about the achievements of the younger generation of settlers who are now holding important portfolios within the government or private entities. They are also those studying overseas.
“In the bid to develop the minds of Felda settlers, education and tuition schemes are continually offered and now, there are programmes that send 10 (from among the younger generation of) Felda settlers overseas for professional courses with fees fully borne by Felda. Improving the physical and mental capacity of Felda settlers does not take a year or two, but it is a task that spans generations,” he said.

Felda will be hosting the programme Ekspresi Felda Negaraku Malaysia in conjunction with the Hari Peneroka Peringkat Kebangsaan (the national level Settlers Day) celebration from July 21 to 23.
Ab Ghani said the celebration was the government’s way of acknowledging the contributions of Felda settlers.
He said the programme celebrates the achievements of Felda settlers in various fields and hoped that Felda would continue to be the platform of community development for rural Malays.

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