Through my aging eyes: We are at the mercy of Nature

By Edwin Bosi

When I visited Tambatuon village in Kadamaian Kota Belud in April 2011 with YB Jimmy Wong and DAP Sabah political leaders it was actually partly a fact-finding mission. We heard so much of Tambatuon through the news media, their fight for survival against a proposed dam that will in the word of Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, BN Member of Parliament for Kota Belud, obliterate them from the map of Sabah. Our casual visit, meeting and walking around the village gave us a feeling that the villagers were genuinely not in favor of the dam at all cost. It is not only showing in their faces but also their environment. They have built a beautiful yet simple and decent life in Tambatuon which they call home.

Sdr Lim Kit Siang took time on 28 May 2011 to visit and meet up with the ex-village chief Singkui Tinggi and other community leaders. He too was convinced of the peoples’ stance against the dam. When the plea of the villagers touched the very heart of Sdr Kit Siang, it does not take long for him to commence the battle for and to save Tambatuon, via the Twitter world. Sadly on that night, Kit Siang soon found out that there is no internet coverage in Tambatuon so the “Twitter war” has to be conducted in Kota Kinabalu.

While we mourned of no internet access in Tambatuon I was amused of the free computers given to selected rural students and households so that they are with the rest of the world. I remember seeing in the mainstream media a picture of an old folk in Banggi island with a computer in his shack with no electric supply. It was a front page picture, a government propaganda showing him admiring the “toy”. The government is so proud of its achievement! As for the students I was also told that parents have to folk out some RM28 per month on broadband service for their notebooks. In the early days when the rural folks were supplied with electricity it did not take long before they reverted back to kerosene oil. They just do not have the money to pay for the bills. The government never learnt and that habit continues. It looks like the government is spending our tax money for the benefit of some.

Writing in his blog, MP Rahman enlightened readers on food security. He then said that the dam will benefit thousands of Kota Belud poor paddy farmers contributing RM200 million into the local gross income and a substantial downstream economic activity. It will also erase Kota Belud’s unflattering title as “one of the poorest districts in Malaysia”. He also said beside providing water for the 25000 acres of padi field, the dam will help control flooding and destruction of crops. The dam can generate hydro-electricity when the government feels it is time to use it. Rahman also said the dam will provide treated water supply for humans and will be a tourist attraction, sightseers and activities like fishing and camping.

Food security is important. Self-sufficiency in rice is hovering at about 65% for the country. For a country to be secured in terms of food, it must diversify. In Sabah we see people eating tapioca, sweet potatoes and sago. These are staple food to some ethnic groups and life-saving food plants especially during the Japanese occupation. I was surprised that Rural Development Minister Shafie Apdal shared my thought when he recommended the government to go into tapioca farming. MP Rahman in his Twit asked anyone who want to eat tapioca to raise their hands. Are we going back to the Japanese occupation era, he asked?

For the purpose of this discussion I will confined it to rice. I have engaged with rice farmers and millers in Kota Belud and they have offered an overview of the “agropolitan” project initiated by the government. They confided that the main issue is not about inadequate water but the too much of it. One miller even joked that we should develop a “submarine” variety of padi for Kota Belud. Their concern is the lack of proper irrigation system. MP Rahman has revealed that the government has spent RM150 million to upgrade the Kota Belud’s irrigation, management technology and machinery. After having spent that amount, the problem persisted. We must be practical. Long duration of dry spell as in “El Nino” will affect the padi project even with a Tambatuon dam. Long duration of heavy rain will also affect the padi project even if we have good irrigation system and Tambatuon dam.

I am not disputing that the development of 25000 acres is good for our rice stockpile. I am also concerned for the wellbeing and welfare of padi farmers in Kota Belud irrespective of whether they are Dusuns, Bajaus or Irranuns. I think the concerned should also be trained at the Dusun villagers in Tambatuon. If few villages are going to be submerged and displace a few thousand people then the government must justify its proposal to have a dam. The government must ensure that they have made a comprehensive study and exhaust all the options before pinning down on the dam. Like a steroid, the dam is only a relief. A trip to Chengmai to see how they manage their agriculture land is highly recommended.

Why are the people of Tambatuon up in arms against the government plan to construct a dam? I believe it is about approach. The affected people must be consulted. They must be briefed on the advantages of having a dam and the quantum of compensation. However, the government failed to do just that. The government’s Moyog dam relocation exercise failed when the affected people were shortchanged. The government did not fulfill its end of the agreement. The people are not happy with the housings and infrastructure, and they were not given land in exchanged so that they can toil on them. It is so ironical when the new village which is located behind the Moyog dam is dependent on gravity water supply and rain. The failure in Moyog will not make it easy for future government relocation exercises of this nature.

My engagement with the people of Tambatuon inspired me to write about them and their fight to save their village from being obliterated from the surface of this planet. I am for food security and I certainly like to see the 25000 acres of land become productive. I like to see the landowners and rice farmers in Kota Belud actively working on their lands, provide the rice for our people and enjoy a decent standard of living. But is it fair not to be concerned for the Tambatuon people who will lose their land, property and heritage?

Tambatuon is a tourist destination with big potential. The river, hills, forest and Mount Kinabalu behind it provide the natural setting for the people to enjoy and admire. They are blessed with fertile land where wet and hill fragrance rice, rubber, vegetables and fruits grow without much difficulty. The river is so clear and refreshing and is teeming with fish, courtesy of the tagal system which the villagers have adopted. They now have homesteads and resorts, and these are good for the economy. They have also made a road towards Mt. Kinabalu which is now at the fringe of the National Park boundary. With some understanding, the Parks and the people of Tambatuon can now develop a new trail to the peak of Kinabalu. The villagers will soon grow temperate vegetables which will be good for the agriculture sector. The “Tagal” system can lead to a great fishing spot. My take is Kota Belud will become another exciting and attractive tourism destination.

However, let us get our sequence right. The government must address the issue of flooding in Tampasuk plain by managing the several rivers that drain into the area. I agree with a rice miller that several small dams can be constructed to control the water flows and where there is minimal or no impact on the villages. These small dams can also produce electricity and water supply that will meet the demand for the surrounding villages. The irrigation system must be able to solve the water problem when it rains or during a dry spell. As I indicated earlier, extreme long duration of drought and heavy downpour will always affect the padi project with or without the dam. I can see the future role of dams in the Kota Belud but damming the Kadamaian river at Tambatuon in its proposed scale and the reasons for it is not the answer. Nature when disturbed will definitely returns the favour.

(Published in The Borneo Post, 19th June 2011)

  1. #1 by bruno on Thursday, 23 June 2011 - 12:11 pm

    Everywhere BN’s footprints can be found there is always widespread looting going on.Sabah and Sarawak are two of the most resource rich states in Malaysia.Their tropical forest are being illegally log by the corrupted BN politicians and their cronies,and these natives are supposed to be the original Bumiputras of the land.Instead they have being chased out of their NCL with nowhere to go.Their oil rich reserves have been depleted and all the profits gone to the politicians pockets.

    It is time someone shake this people up from their trance.Educate them so that they won’t be so backwards.Teach then how to exercise their rights and kick out Umno and its partners in crime this coming election.Maybe we should send Bersih’s Ms. Ambiga over there.If Umno Baru is scared stiff by just hearing the name of this lady what are those two dunggus of CM’s over there to do.This lady will just walk past over them.

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