|Agricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)|
|12. A survey of government pioneer land settlement programmes in south-east Asia|
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, governments in South-East Asia have carved out of the jungle frontier large tracts of land for new settlements. Although their motives have differed from one another and even with time, practically all of them have found the opening of new land an appropriate strategy in their development process. During the past four decades a great deal of attention has been given to this activity and scores of studies have been conducted with a view to understanding it better and contributing to its greater success. Excepting a few government initiated reports, most of the studies tend to regard government sponsored resettlement programmes as either failures or a waste of public lands. As evidence, many of these studies have been able to identify a number of factors that can explain the weaknesses of these programmer, and many have even ventured to suggest either solutions to overcome the problems or guidelines for better implementation of the programmer.
Since the development of new settlements requires a long period of time, to make a fair assessment, the studies should be conducted many years after the initial implementation of the projects. It would be reasonable to expect changes in both procedures and emphasis during that span of time. This may create a "methodological" difficulty, in that resettlement bureaurats tend to make their decisions on an ad hoc, short-term basis, whilst academic assessors tend to make their assessments based on long-term considerations. In many cases, however, assessments are made based on how many of the objective have been realized, and in this undertaking, one who is familiar with the South-East Asian experience would quickly learn that the objectives are either too many or too vague or change too quickly.
Sometimes some objectives are better realized than others, but that does not mean that a programme is not largely successful. For example, although the FELDA programme has been well received, the issue of whether it is successful or not is still in dispute. If we were to examine FELDA only within the scope of its original aim of generating minimum incomes of 300 ringgits per month, then there is no doubt that the agency has been completely successful in its objective. But from the complaints of the settlers, one is bound to come to a different, overall conclusion. Also, whilst attempting to be comprehensive in our assessments, we adduce elements which were not even in the minds of the planners when plans were conceived. For example, measurements of cost and benefits may be a sound economic approach, but they may be of minor relevance within the context of social, political, or security considerations. Be that as it may, the time has probably come for a more comprehensive system of assessment to be formulated in addition to the more common method of assessing resettlement programmes against declared targets in terms of area developed and number of people resettled.
Whatever may be the critics' verdicts on the resettlement programmes, there is no doubt that South-East Asian governments will continue to open up new areas, dependent, of course, on the availability of land resources. In this regard, it has often been observed that planners tend to assume that unoccupied state lands are all available for such projects. It would be in the long-term interest of the governments concerned to have an inventory of their land resources and, also, to carry out a land capability study. Once information is available with regards to the status and quality of the land resources, only then should the planners begin to prepare longterm plans for the optimum utilization of the land.
It may be pointed out here that, in planning for new settlements, South-East Asian planners tend to unduly consider only unalienated land. No doubt there is political pragmatism and expediency in this approach, but it may not be the most comprehensive. Since the opening of the jungle frontier so frequently relates to the issue of overcrowding and landlessness, plans for developing the frontier ought also to take into account the nature of already alienated land, especially the uneconomic holdings or abandoned and idle farms. South-East Asian governments tend to deal with these issues separately. Since land resources are limited, the development and redevelopment of alienated and unalienated land should be considered together.
The high cost of government land settlement projects is a reason often presented against the continuation of such projects and for the need to find alternatives. Ironically, may of the studies appear to show that the projects provided with the more elaborate social and physical infrastructures-reflecting higher costs-tend to be more successful. In this regard, in order to stretch government funds to benefit the maximum number of people, it has often been suggested that fully supported settlements should be reduced and that spontaneous settlements should be accordingly encouraged. Here again, the two approaches should not have to be taken as alternatives. Rather, they could comprise a complementary solution, whereby government assistance could be used to satisfy certain community service needs, whilst the settlers themselves could be encouraged to use their own resources to develop the land. There is, however, a need for these various approaches to be examined in detail.
It has also often been said that settlement projects offer at best a temporary solution in rural development since the later generations of the project population tend to experience a return to the conditions symptomatic of the areas that had actuated the resettlement process. Previously, governments gave no direct attention to the welfare of these later generations. Presently, concern has been generated about them and their wellbeing as an input in planning for the schemes. It would be pertinent to note that hitherto there have been few studies that have focused attention on this issue, and often what we get are mere assumptions. Consequently, it would be worthwhile to carry out an in-depth study on matters concerning the later generations. For those who have attained adulthood, we have to know what has happened to them, and for those who are still young, an understanding of their perceptions and aspirations would be most meaningful in planning for their future.