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close this bookAgricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)
close this folder2. Spontaneous and planned settlement in south-east Asia
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThailand
View the documentClearing and settlement in the highland-lowland transition zone of northern Thailand
View the documentMalaysia
View the documentThe Philippines
View the documentIndonesia
View the documentConclusion: government-sponsored versus spontaneous settlement
View the documentReferences


Malaysia is the South-East Asian state which encourages and organizes land reclamation most consistently and supports it best financially. According to an official government statement, "land settlement [is] one of the major approaches in agricultural and socioeconomic development. Malaysia . . . will have to continue to depend on the expansion of its traditional agricultural and other primary industries. All this will have to focus on the availability of land resources. The development of such land resources during the next few decades will have to be guided by a wise policy and its pragmatic implementation . . . with the dual problem of either to open up new areas or to give priority to conservation" (Bahrin 1981). In 1958, before the ambitious planned and programmed development in the country, 74 per cent of the land area was under forest and only 16 per cent was under agriculture; by 1974 agriculture had reached 26.2 per cent while 58.6 per cent forest remained. During the Second Malaysia Plan (19711975) a further 323,607 ha were newly opened up. The third plan (1976-1980) and future decades are expected to result in similar clearings (Bahrin 1981, 557-558).

As the other contributions to this volume provide much new information on aspects of pioneer settlement in Malaysia, only a few warrant mention here:

1. The state-organized programmes include political aims, connected to the New Economic Policy (1975) to improve the economic share of the bumiputera (i.e. ethnic Malaysians).

2. There was an unintended predecessor, the "emergency settlement" during the civil war of 1948-1958 of about 0.5 million people (87 per cent ethnic Chinese moved into cat 440 villages, 58 per cent of which were new) (Pelzer 1963; Sandhu 1964). A smaller parallel occurred in Sarawak in 1965 during Sukarno's konfrontasi, resettling approximately 8,000 (mainly Chinese) smallholders (Uhlig 1970).

3. Through FELDA and related schemes, by 1975 317,000 ha had been added to Malaysia's wet-rice land, mainly double cropping, increasing the supply of rice to 80-90 per cent of the country's consumption.

4. The large-scale introduction of the oil palm into smallholder settlement schemes has been a world-wide innovation of great importance.

5. FELDA alone has instigated 367 land schemes covering some 654,583 ha throughout Malaysia. By June 1984 84,265 settler families-more than half a million people-had benefitted from the FELDA schemes, mainly on the peninsula, but to a certain degree also in Sabah. FELDA expects to settle at least 200,000 families (more than a million people) through its schemes by 1990 (Information Malaysia 1985). Whereas most publications quote only the achievements of the most important settlement projects, it should be noted that besides FELDA other organizations have been quite effective in creating additional land settlements. Notable among them are FELCRA (Federal

FIG. 2. Regional land development projects in West Malaysia (Compiled by F. Corvinus, Univ. of Freiburg, FRO.) (Map by J. Zetzsche)

Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority), which is enlarging ("fringe alienation"), improving, or opening up new land for rubber, oil palm, cocoa, and rice smallholders and RISDA (Rubber Industries Smallholder Development Authority), which again improves (replanting) and extends smallholdings throughout the country. Besides these, most of the individual states are running their own extensive land development schemes. For example, Ketengah, the development authority for the Trengganu Tengah region, as of 1981 was successful in planting 74,625 ha (67.2 per cent oil palm, 6.3 per cent rubber and other crops such as cocoa, sago, rice) in 43 agricultural settlement projects in the hitherto untouched interior of Trengganu (Development Authority, Trengganu 1981). Figure 2 aims at an overall view of regional land development in West Malaysia.

The Fourth Malaysia Plan (1980-1985) (p. 270) gives the progress in land development for 1971-1980 and the target for 1981-1985 as follows:


  Achievement (ha) Target (ha)
Federal programmes (1971-1980) (1981-1985)
FELDA 373,705 149,798
FELCRA 50,710 32,662
RlSDA 31,463 15,409
Subtotal 455,878 197,869
State programmes    
W. Malaysia 155,662 143,872
Sabah 57,816 56,680
Sarawak 76,655 16,599
Subtotal 290,133 217,151
Joint venture/private sector 120,047 128,441
Total 866,058 543,461

The aim of reaching a comprehensive overview of all land newly cleared and settled in the ASEAN countries would be greatly supported if our Malaysian colleagues would attempt a more detailed inventory of all settlements developed so far, including all the various schemes beyond FELDA's immediate reach and including recent developments in East Malaysia.

6. Intensive clearing of forests-for settlement as well as (or even more) for timber extraction-has to be critically evaluated because of its ecological implications. Massive inroads into the tropical rain and mountain forests have caused widespread and severe soil erosion, aggravated by deep weathering in tropical soils. The breakdown of soil structure and the loss of soil fertility have to be controlled. Logging and the construction of access roads and tracks are certainly responsible for the worst part, but the interval between clearing and planting on land cleared for agriculture can also cause excessive erosion. And even under tree crops like rubber the interception of precipitation is much less than in primary forest with its several tree storeys and dense undergrowth.

As Bahrin (1981) has summarized, the Malaysian public and government, scientists, foresters, as well as agriculturalists have by now become aware of these dangers. Erosional or environmental problems must not be allowed to delay or curtail land development. But there is now an awareness of the need to find concepts and controls to ensure that growth serves both development and conservation. The remaining reserves of agriculturally suitable land (2 million ha) should therefore be apportioned according to the following ratios: crop land, 70 per cent; infrastructure, settlements, industries, 14 per cent; `'ecosystems," especially conservation of catchment reserves, 12 per cent; mining, 4 per cent.

7. Remarkable changes in settlement have also occurred in East Malaysia. Shifting cultivation was estimated to occupy 63,500 ha in Sarawak and 44,000 ha in Sabah (Lee 1970; Wong 1973). Clearly, land development by stabilizing shifting cultivation and replacing it with permanent cultivation and settlement must be one of the main aims. In some cases the indigenous groups have already progressed to a higher level of material and technical advancement, especially including permanent irrigated rice cultivation, while still living in the traditional, but now permanently located, longhouses. Some Kelabit and related groups in Sarawak have shown outstanding achievement in a highland environment of up to 900-1,200 m. Some settlements have close affinities with similar settlements across the border in Indonesian Kalimantan (Voon and Khoo 1980).

Attempts to replace shifting cultivation and settlement, formerly relocated in intervals of several years, by permanent housing schemes (including primary and secondary schools) and plantations of rubber, pepper, etc., were observed by this author in 1962 and 1966 in Sarawak. In my papers of 1966 and 1970 (in German) I describe various attempts, mainly in the uplands of Sabah, to change shifting cultivation into permanent agriculture and settlement and to stabilize the newly opened land. Besides the so-called coastal Dusun (Kadazan), who had moved down to the coastal plain and converted it into permanent wet-rice land as early as the turn of the century, there emerged in the 1950s and early 1960s more areas of wet-rice and mixed cultivation in the valleys and upland basins of the interior, as in Ranau, Keningau, etc. Imperata savannahs (abandoned shiftingcultivation tracts) had been converted into cattle-ranches, following the example of coastal Bajau around Kota Belud (Uhlig 1966). The Lohan Settlement Scheme, part of the larger Labuk Scheme. sponsored by Unesco and connected with the first road construction from the north-west to the east coast, created several villages and lands for about 800 Kadazan shifting cultivators to be settled permanently as wet-rice and mixed-crop farmers. Other schemes-at that early period not massive but successfully pioneering in smaller attempts, guided by the agricultural extension service-introduced the replanting of shifting cultivation plots with rubber instead of leaving them to secondary bush. Thus considerable numbers of native rubber smallholdings were created during the nine or ten-year period of a former shifting cultivation cycle, the first rubber becoming ripe for tapping during that same time!

Replacing shifting cultivation by high-altitude market gardening of temperate vegetables, cabbage, tobacco, etc., was demonstrated by the example of the Kundasan-Bundu Tuhan uplands (1,200-1,500 m, near Mt. Kinabalu on the then new [1955] pass road to Ranau). As Voon and Khoo (1980) have reported this development has since extended over an area of some 5,000 ha, comprising ten settlements and about 5,500 people. Cultivation and marketing have been consolidated by the Kundasan Irrigation Scheme and a state-owned development corporation (1976). Another 200 ha scheme for temperate vegetables and 400 ha for coffee, cardamom, and other cash crops and dairying have been added on the Pinosuk plateau to the existing (since 1970) vegetable cultivation in that location.

Generally high-altitude market gardening of temperate vegetables and fruits has become an ecologically well-adjusted alternate type of new colonization in many upland areas of south and south-east Asia, wherever road construction has opened access to the lowland markets where these products fetch fair prices. This is true, for example, in the Cameron Highlands in West Malaysia (Voon and Khoo 1980) but also in many mountainous parts of Java, Sumatra, Bali, northern Luzon (Philippines), Burma, the Himalayas (usually near older established hill stations), and of northern Thailand (Uhlig 1975, 1979, 1980).

Apart from these highland developments, the relocation of native populations (and to a limited extent immigrants from West Malaysia) to modern schemes has gained momentum in the lowlands too, notably in the large lowland forests of Sabah (Sutton 1977). This applies mainly to the hinterland of Sandakan and Tawau, on account of the more favourable conditions there and in order to bring new possibilities of use to the rain forests which have been degraded to secondary forests through extensive tree felling associated with large-scale timber concessions. Although Sabah has been part of Malaysia since 1963, FELDA was not directly entrusted with land development there; rather the Sabah Land Development Board was the operating agency. Its task was the consolidation of earlier (state) schemes and the organization of new projects. It operated very much after the manner of FELDA, again with the main emphasis on oil-palm schemes (including palm oil mills). By 1976 the Sabah Land Development Board had created 29 schemes with a planted area of 24,629 ha (with the high share of 21,242 ha of oil palms) and 2,300 settler families. The plans for 1980 called for a total of 57,565 ha and about 10,000 families. Assuming an average family size of 6.5, these newly cleared settlements in Sabah alone would for the early 1980s provide land for some 54,000-100,000 people (Sutton 1977). In some cases the settlers were already in residence, frequently as squatters, but the majority have only recently moved into the schemes. Cultural conflicts may occur where the creation of modern, commercially viable schemes clash with still functioning native communities of the Kadazan or Murut shifting cultivators (not yet reached by the above-mentioned changes) and their traditional longhouse settlements (Uhlig 1966, 1970; Sutton 1977; Voon and Khoo 1980). In the mean time the Sabah state government decided to join its land development programme with FELDA, which opened up 6,748 ha there in 1981. Under the Fourth Malaysia Plan (1981-1985) a total of 33,424 ha or 23.6 per cent of the overall programme has been earmarked for development in Sabah (FELDA 1981).

The speed of land clearing and of the provision of new settlements has been so fast that there appears to be a shortage of potential settlers to fill them. Sarawak still depends on its own settlement programmes, begun in the early 1960s with the permanent settlements of Dayak shifting cultivators on land near their traditional settlements. The author remembers a scene that vividly expresses the dramatic changes resulting from this modernization: In 1966 during a visit to an Iban longhouse at a distance of only some 500 m from the Melugu Settlement Scheme (second division of Sarawak) the elderly village chief appeared to become somewhat irritated when we saw a net filled with old skulls from former head-hunting ceremonies still hanging on the verandah of the longhouse. He quickly explained that these heads had been taken during his grandfather's generation, whilst nowadays his own grandchildren were attending the modern secondary school attached to the new settlement scheme, which their parents had recently joined (Uhlig 1966, 1970). In 1970 this Melugu land development scheme had achieved 782 ha planted with rubber and divided into 236 settlers' lots. The total of seven land development schemes (so-called type B. for former tribal shifting cultivators) of Sarawak had established 5,548 ha of rubber in 1,313 lots; no further rubber planting followed after 1970 (Lien 1980, table 3.5).

Although Sarawak consists of 77 per cent primary or secondary forest, the legal complexity of its land-tenure system (e.g. the reserves of "native area land" and "native customary land" for the indigenous shifting cultivators) makes it difficult to find suitable areas for settlement schemes. The rubber planting schemes of the Sarawak Land Development Board were divided into the above-mentioned B-type "group rubber planting projects," designed for the local natives, and schemes with individual titles to land. In contrast to West Malaysia, the oil palm was practically non-existent in Sarawak prior to 1970 and is still playing a minor part there, mainly on an estate basis, which is new to Sarawak (Senftleben 1978). It is included in Sarawak's largest development area, the Bintulu-Miri-Long Lama region. A master plan covering the development of its roughly 1.5 million ha of mainly tropical forest land was completed in 1974; some 20,000 ha may be under production by now. Long-range projections estimate approximately 360,000 ha of mostly unpopulated land (half of it "native customary land") to be cultivable.