Masing: Iban farmers can be movers and shakers if they are innovative

Alexander (right) presenting a souvenir to Masing. With them is Dr Rundi.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Oct 25: There is an estimated 1.5 million hectares of native customary rights (NCR) land in Sarawak, and if divided, each Dayak will have about 2.14 hectares. According to the 2017 census, each Iban has about 1.5 hectares in the state.

But possessing NCR land, including ‘pemakai menoa’ and ‘pulau galau’ (PMPG) areas (which have legal recognition now in perpetuity), without doing anything on them will not do much for the Iban landowners nor will it make them rich, said Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing.

“Therefore, it’s important for Iban farmers to be innovative in doing things. Search for new ideas. Talk to people of the same profession who are successful and (find out) what makes them tick,” he said when addressing the Iban Symposium themed ‘Optimising our resources: Leveraging on the digital economy for greater prosperity’ in Bintulu today.

“Anang malu nanya penemu ari orang ke bulih utai. Orang ke bisi utai anang rangka meri bala penemu,” he said in Iban.

Sharing with the audience the story of an old Chinese couple who were gardeners renting a small piece of Dayak land next to his farm in Kuching, Masing said the couple were no longer there after their three children graduated. One of their children is a medical doctor, and he took them out from their dingy hut to live in the city.

“Out of their earnings as gardeners, I was informed, cultivating a piece of rented land from the Dayak, this Chinese couple managed to earn enough money to send their kids to school. In their later lives, this old Chinese couple enjoyed the benefits of their hard work and sacrifices.

Masing (seated, centre), flanked by Alexander on his right and Dr Rundi, with other guests and participants in a group photo.

“What happened to the Dayaks who owned the land that was rented to the Chinese couple? So, out of curiosity again, I asked around and was told that they were still in their village – gardening,” he lamented.

Agriculture activities, he stressed, in their traditional forms will not make people rich overnight.

Noting that the Ibans, like farmers in general, were conservative in nature and slow in adapting to changes, Masing urged the educated ones to advise the older generation to change for the better.

“Let us not become an obstacle to change among our communities, unless those changes are for the worse. There are times, over the years, our so-called educated young generation has become an obstacle to change for their personal reasons and hidden agendas,” he said.

Masing also urged hardworking Iban gardeners to collaborate with Chinese farmers in exchange for gardening expertise.

“This is the only way for the hardworking Iban gardeners to acquire the necessary gardening skills from the Chinese, and at the same time (help) the genuine landless Chinese farmers to become landed gardeners.

“During my time as the land minister, I was about to locate a place in Miri that was ideal for this pilot project, but before it could take place, I was moved out from the ministerial position,” he revealed.

Participants listening attentively at the Iban Symposium.

Emphasising that the Iban being the largest ethnic group in Sarawak is its asset, Masing said there was no reason why the Ibans of Sarawak cannot capitalise on their numbers and improve their livelihoods.

“All we have to do now is maximise this asset of ours to the fullest by working hard but smart. Singapore and Hong Kong, two countries with no natural resources, are good examples where human capital is being utilised and harnessed to the fullest,” he added.

Education, he emphasised, is the key because well-educated and developed human resources were much greater assets than natural resources.

“The Ibans must educate our people and our workforce in ways that will enable them to work intelligently. The Ibans should focus on this for the years to come. In short, education and its educated population will be the main driver that will move our community forward,” he said.

Relating this to the digital economy, Masing admitted that people could not ignore the fact that advancement in information technology, including the Internet of Things (IoT), had affected human lives beyond imagination.

“The chief minister (Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg) has emphasised on digital technology in preparing us for the future. The cyberspace is borderless, so there is no reason why Iban farmers, handicraft makers and resort owners cannot post their products worldwide,” he said.

However, for that to happen, he noted that appropriate telecommunication infrastructure must be provided and accessible to all before Sarawak could optimise its assets by leveraging on the digital economy for greater prosperity.

“It is my hope, and I am sure it is the hope and dream of our chief minister, to have every longhouse, every kampung, every town and every nook and corner of Sarawak to be cyber-connected to the rest of the world in the years to come,” he said.

Minister of Utilities Dato Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom, Assistant Minister of Local Government Datu Dr Penguang Manggil, Assistant Minister of Native Laws and Customs Datuk John Sikie Tayai, Assistant Minister for Community Well-being Datuk Francis Harden Hollis, symposium chairman Datuk Alexander Nanta Linggi and state science research advisor Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang were present. — DayakDaily