Enhancing value of NCR land

NCR landowners in Sarawak are deserving of their right to progress and prosperity. Oil palm planting present the highest return on their investments. With government support, landowners can reap better potential in their real estate and see better living standards. OOI TEE CHING writes.

In the small town of Sebako in Sarawak, some 20-odd people had waited patiently for the latest planting updates from officials of Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra).  

Led by their headman Salimin Asiew they are native customary rights (NCR) landowners who are appealing for government funding to expand planting areas and have more natives benefit from more productive use of their land.  

NCR land refers to rights acquired by the native landowners in accordance with the native customary law of the communities prior to January 1 1958 as set out in Section 5(2) of Sarawak Land Code. 

Land ownership is life to rural natives of Sarawak. It is a heritage and inheritance, both from a cultural as well as an economic viewpoint. Prior to government-funded perimeter and individual lot surveys, Salimin noted proof of land ownership was very tenuous. 

Many elders, when asked to identify their land, would make an arm sweeping motion from left to right spanning from fruit trees, bamboo clumps, river, valley and marked burial sites. 

Left to right: Konsel Aho, Sijon Ngajak, Joen Hokia, Nyalo Bilok and Salimin Asiew, at the Sebako Oil Palm Estate in Semantan, Sarawak. NCR landowners want to expand their planting area and have more of their relatives and neighbours benefit from more productive of their land use. Photo by Salhani Ibrahim.

Through Salcra’s oil palm development, Salimin noted NCR landowners have had their boundaries properly surveyed and given their respective land titles. 

“Allegations of rampant land grabbing that you read on the Internet are not entirely true. There are land disputes. We have native courts to settle them,” he said.  

Asked about free, prior and informed consent in oil palm development, he replied: “From the start, Salcra officers explained their management policy." 

“There is mutual trust and respect in our dialogue sessions. Many more among our community have gained confidence and applied to Salcra to plant oil palms for them. 

“Our children, although many are working in Kuala Lumpur, see oil palm planting, here, as good investments. In time, our children will inherit the land. We want to pass on this business that they can build on with better agronomic expertise,” he said. 

“With more government funding for proper land terracing,  better seedlings and higher quality fertilisers, more NCR land can be developed via economies of scale. We would like to see more of our neighbours and relatives reap the benefits of commercial scale plantings,” Salimin added. 

Under the 11th Malaysia Plan covering from next year to 2020, Sarawak government aims to upgrade the value of these NCR lands as a means to improve the people’s income. 

Sarawak’s Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing noted NCR land development is handled by four organisations, namely Sarawak Land Development Board (SLDB), Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA), Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Felcra) and Salcra. 

As at 30th September this year, about 235,000ha of NCR land had already been planted with oil palms.  

“In 20 years, Sarawak has targeted another 500,000ha for oil palm development on NCR land. We hope the federal government will agree to allocate RM571 million for the next five years as per our application to help us raise our people’s standard of living,” said Masing. 

With a funding boost from the federal government, he said LCDA and Salcra can help more NCR landowners develop idle plots to raise the value of their real estate.  

He also said the issuance of land titles has helped settle disputes and enabled NCR landowners to mortgage their land for start-up capital to leverage on more value-added activities. This is line with the state government’s vision of a native middle-class. 

“Planting oil palms on idle land has always been for the benefit of business owners and landowners. 

"It is regretful that many of these non-governmental organisations make false allegations of land grabbing and sow distrust among our community in order to gain political mileage and stop the growth of the industry," said Masing. 

In a separate interview at Sri Aman, community leader for Pakit longhouse Briku Busang expressed a similar view. He noted that before his people embraced oil palm planting, life was tough because his community only planted padi and had just about enough to eat.  

“In the 1970s, my people were still shifting cultivators. We have no capital to invest in heavy machinery and no technical knowledge on planting oil palm commercially. 

“In 1980, Salcra suggested this new method to make NCR land more productive without ownership sacrifice.  We started with Phase 1 and today, we have engaged Salcra to manage around 3,000ha,” he added. 

Briku noted it has been 25 years since his people started planting oil palm. “We’re due to replant a second cycle of oil palms. We would like for the federal government to allocate specific funding for replanting of oil palms and rubber on NCR land.” 

“What we’re getting from the federal government for the construction of internal village roads and bridges is not enough. “As taxpayers, we too want equal opportunities for development that will help bridge the rural and urban gap,” he said.

NCR landowners of Lemanak Oil Palm Estate at Lubuk Antu, Sarawak. Sarawak government aims to upgrade the value of their land as a means to improve rural folks' income. Photo by Salhani Ibrahim.