Bibliographic data

Jin-Bee, Ooi:. Geographies for Advanced Study. London; Harlow: Longmans, Green & Co., 4th impr. [4. Druck] ed., 1969 [1963], 379–381.

Poverty in Malaya

[p. 379]


Many factors are responsible for the poverty of these peasants. One of the most important is the difficult physical environment of the Peninsula. The climate with its constantly high temperature and humidity, and especially its monotony, is a handicap to the efficient working of farmers and fishermen engaged mainly in outdoor manual work. They are also regularly exposed to disease-carrying mosquitoes, mites, flies and other insects, and the nature of the occupations is such that they are often in contact with infected soil. Living as they do, on an inadequate and badly balanced diet, in insanitary surroundings and without proper medical facilities, it is not surprising that they find it difficult if not impossible to maintain a high level of health and efficiency. Their output consequently is low. The great number and variety of insects and other pests which flourish in the hot and humid climate also contribute directly to the low output by attacking the farmers' crops. Moreover, as noted earlier, the soils of the Peninsula are, with few exceptions, infertile and easily eroded, and require regular fertilization to support good crops. Few of the farmers use fertilizers, mainly because they are too poor to be able to afford them, but also because many of them are not convinced of their value. This vicious circle of low output and low incomes is difficult to break.

But the low living standards of the peasants are also caused by other non-physical factors. Widespread rural indebtedness, poor marketing and transport facilities in the rural districts, excessive price fluctuations, agricultural holdings which are too small for their labour capacity and made smaller year by year through increasing pressure of population on the land, through land laws and customs which lead to the repeated subdivision and fragmentation of land, and insecurity of land tenure, among others, are also directly or indirectly responsible. About half of the total peasant population, most of them Malays, grow padi as the main crop. Except in abnormally bad times such as experienced during the Japanese occupation, padi grown in the small holdings brings in a very low income. The high cloudiness, the lack of variations in the length of day, the high temperature and humidity of the Peninsula are all unfavourable to optimum yields from a plant which grows best under sub-tropical and warm temperate conditions. But due to tradition, conservatism and lack of official encouragement to change their crops, the farmers continue to put their land under padi.

[p. 380]


Progress in the battle against poverty in the rural areas of Malaya will depend to a great extent on the effectiveness of the Federal Land Development Authority (FLDA) and of the Rural and Industrial Development Authority (RIDA) which was started in 1950 with the primary objective of promoting economic betterment in the rural districts. Both the FLDA and RIDA represent a concrete attempt by the Federal Government to play a more decisive role in a hitherto neglected sector of the national economy. It is a step forward from the haphazard laissez-faire attitude, characteristic of a colonial economy, towards the direction whereby future growth in the rural areas is shaped and guided to some degree by conscious planning. 2

There is a real danger that the rate of growth in the rural as well

[p. 381]

as the other sectors of the national economy may be too slow in relation to the rate of population increase to make for a net increase in the overall standards of living. The rate of natural increase of the population in Malaya is between 3.3 and 3.5 per cent per annum. If unchecked, such a rate of growth would result in the doubling of the population in 25 years. Such a rate of growth would also mean that between 8 and 10 per cent of the national income would have to be saved and invested each year to prevent a decline in the income per person, that is, simply to maintain the existing level of living. On the surface the solution to this problem appears to be a fairly straightforward one: measures must be taken to control the rate of population increase and to foster the expansion of the country's economy.


[2] The functions of RIDA have now been taken over by a new body - the Majlis Amanah Ra'ayat (MARA).

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