Having multiple skills means a lot to FELDA settlers

By Siti Noriezam binti Mohd Zamri

Have you ever wondered how rural or village people survive their living during COVID-19 pandemic? Perhaps most of you would think and imagine that they might face a lot of difficulties.

If this assumption ever crosses your mind, then it shows that you are right. Basically, their lives are not as easy as ABC, but there is a secret way of life that they have kept within their community. Surprisingly, there are special characteristics in them, such as strong determination and resilience, something that they have practiced even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in March last year. It’s their survival instincts borne in them.

Village people possess multiple job skills in various works. Although they are just ordinary people, they have the skills in planting, farming, house building, grass cutting and even plucking (or harvesting) coconut fruits. It is because they have long trained themselves or acclimatised themselves to do all sorts of village work; their life-long skills which are the legacy and inheritance from their parents.

It is like an obligation that all village people must learn throughout their life. Besides, all these kind of jobs can generate income because in the village, all those things that they do are considered main jobs for them, not just having specific skill. With these advantages that they possess, it does not make them panic to earn a living during the current pandemic because they are used to do all kinds of jobs in order to survive.

First generation of FELDA settlers

Such advantages help them to earn extra income to support their family financially during this difficult time.

That was the confession of one village resident who belongs to the first-generation of FELDA settlers in Jengka 13, Pahang Darul Makmur. His name is Omar bin Saad, or better known as ‘Tokwan’, by his close families and the villagers. Born in Perak, he moved to FELDA settlement in Jengka on 7 July 1977.

FELDA stands for Federal Land Development Authority which was the idea of our second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, when he was also in charge of rural development in late 1960s. As a historical background, Jengka is the largest FELDA settlement, and it is located in Pahang Darul Makmur.

There are 25 Jengkas marked in total counted according to number 1 to 25 which represented the number of areas that were opened or set up earlier. Jengka residents are also known as FELDA settlers, while their wives are called ‘Penerokawati’. The basic works that FELDA settlers do are as oil palm farmers and rubber producers.

Tokwan is an oil palm farmer and he also does other things as his part-time job to get extra money since he was young. Before the COVID-19 era, he usually manages his own palm oil plantation and also does farming such as planting cassava and sweet potatoes and sells them to the villagers of Jengka 13. He also has his own fishing pond behind his house for his fish farming project.

Since COVID-19 pandemic, it has slightly affected his family’s finances. Thus, Tokwan started to do other jobs where he becomes a house builder and works with his friends. He does that as a part-time job whenever he does not go to the oil palm plantation. Furthermore, he also uses his fish farming as a food supply when needed so that he can cut the daily cost there. These are the things that Tokwan does in order to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Tokwan, he had learned farming and house building since he was 13 years old, and these skills have benefited him throughout his life. This job has enabled him to earn side income.

Tokwan said, “We as village people need to get used to doing all kinds of jobs that we can do at one time. It does not mean that we do not have enough money to live, but it has become a necessity in our life to be proficient in all work as a villager. That’s what makes us proud of ourselves to be village people.”

Why they bother to do other work?

Why did Tokwan bother to do such a thing when he already has an oil palm plantation?

It is because ‘every flow has its ebb’. The same goes for life, it also has the ups and downs. Tokwan stated that even though he has palm oil plantation, but it was a challenge when COVID-19 first hit the country, the settlers could not manage to go into palm oil plantation to do their work, so they need to think of an alternative to earn money for basic needs. 

Other than that, the oil palm trees do not consistently produce the same quantity of fruits every month. So, their financial earning will not always be secured by just working in oil palm plantations. Another reason is that the village people need to have money to buy fertilisers for the oil palm trees six times per year. Thus, doing multiple jobs is something that is compulsory for village people to earn money to buy fertilisers and as a backup plan to ensure a stable income.  

Although Tokwan might need to do many jobs at one time, he feels very grateful to be a FELDA settler. It is because he had found that the COVID-19 has given a positive impact on his life as a village man.

“During the time of phase one of the implementation of movement control order (MCO), everybody was panic and started to think about their occupation and financial position.

But for me, I manage to reflect on myself and it makes me felt so grateful to become a village man due to the low cost of living and there is no need to spend more,” said Tokwan.

He further explained that “although the income from working in oil palm plantation is not that ‘pocket thick’, I feel the income is sufficient.”

“We as village people also do not need to think much about getting a job because there are lots of work that we can do to earn money.” Besides, he said, “We are used to doing multi-job even before the pandemic happened. Thus, that’s the key reason for our survival. Thankfully, there is a rainbow after every storm.”

As time goes by, the government now has already given permission to all people to go back to their daily activities and do their work. Therefore, the FELDA settlers right now can go back to work in the oil palm plantation to perform their main job and do other jobs to increase their income.

Good news for FELDA settlers following China’s import

It is good news to FELDA settlers when the government recently announced China’s latest decision to allow the importation of red palm oil from Malaysia.

As the Director-General of Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), Dr. Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir told Bernama recently, “We hope Malaysian exporters can grasp this golden opportunity to sell the premium and nutritious red palm oil to China, a multi-segment market with the most diversified consumers in the world.”

This latest announcement is like a golden opportunity to Malaysian exporters and FELDA settlers because now palm oil is in high demand and indirectly, it would create more job opportunities to FELDA settlers and increase their income.

Previously, red palm oil was not allowed to enter China because the ‘colour’ does not fulfil the requirement in Chinese Standard for Palm Oil. But, following recent announcement, this brings good news to FELDA settlers as this would see a rise in the export of red palm oil to China which would also mean a better income for the settlers.

Although the settlers get a new job opportunity in red palm oil resources, indeed, their multiple job skills play an important role to help them survive financially during the COVID-19 era.

Having multiple skills in any field may just be a hobby to some, but for FELDA settlers it a means a lot to them during this pandemic as such skills are useful as a backup to their regular job in generating extra income for the family. *** 

(This article is written as part of the individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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