Thursday, January 22, 2009

Revive Role of Home Demostrators to help rural economics

When prices of rubber, pepper and timber are down and prices of agriculture produce are up, and when many factories are closed down and workers forced to quit, what a better way is than to involve ourselves in agricultural activities. The decision of some 250 families in Kapit and 75 persons in Sarikei participating in a Bumi Hijau programme is not only a wise decision, but one that others should emulate.

While the programme is involved in the planting of vegetables around the house compound mainly for home consumption, extra produce can be sold to supplement household incomes. Under this programme the participants among others will enjoy subsidies of fertilizers, vegetable seeds, fish fry, chicks and other garden paraphernalia.

The Green Book programme introduced more than 30 years ago is being revived to reduce the rate of inflation by raising the people’s incomes through involvement in agriculture either as a part time or full time basis.

Through this programme the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has introduced a “kitchen farming” concept whereby households involve in vegetable farming, chicken and fish rearing in gardens of individual homes. Last year alone, the ministry had allocated RM20 million for the purchase and distribution of selected vegetable seedlings, fertilizers and manuals to all strata of society.

Sadly not many of our folks know about the existence of this scheme; perhaps there was little publicity or perhaps our so-called Dayak Yang Berhormats were ignorant or couldn’t be bothered about government policies that could benefit the Rakyat.

For us in Sarawak, the State government should go one step further to ensure the success of this “kitchen farming” concept by reviving the department of agriculture extension programme. Under this extension programme, Home Demonstrators (HDs) go to longhouses to teach Dayak women about home economics including advising them how to plant vegetables and fruit trees, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, how to make compost and to prune fruit trees, teach them sewing, cooking, handicrafts, cake making and healthy living, etc. Likewise, Junior Agriculture Assistants (JAAs) help their menfolk in maintaining their pepper or rubber gardens, chicken, sheep or cow rearing, etc.

This extension programme was actively carried out when Datuk Sri Daniel Tajem was Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Community Development from October 1980 to March 1987.

Working closely with the Home Demonstrators were members of the Women’s Institute resulting in many housewives establish cottage industries selling various kinds of handicrafts including “pua kumbu”.

But when Adenan Satem took over as Agriculture Minister and Community Development in mid-1987, the agriculture extension programme was discontinued, the monthly visits by Home Demonstrators were stopped, and the name of Home Demonstrators was changed to Community Development Assistants having entirely different duties.

Even Farmers Training Schools where the menfolk were trained to be progressive farmers were closed and now they become white elephants. Since then the home economics programme was left to disappear into thin air.

The Women’s Institute which was under the leadership of Rugayah Majid, wife of Abang Yusof Puteh also became dormant.

Could actions against all these institutions and programmes have something to do with the Ming Court Affair 1987 during which Permas (a Malay party) and Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) were trying to topple Taib Mahmud’s government? Why were rural people, especially the housewives made to suffer due to political harassment and victimization?

However, for the Green Book programme to be effective, we must not play politics and deprive the rural women from playing an important role in economic development. Therefore it may be necessary as far as rural Sarawak is concerned to revive or activate the agriculture extension programme.

This is where the role of Home Demonstrators is not only an important tool towards enhancing home or rural economics, but one that helps produce healthy families that are essential in nation building efforts.

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