Monday, March 30, 2009
The Bidayuh Agenda for Equal Prosperity
The Bidayuh Today
UNDP statistics reveal that communities living in rural areas of Sarawak are among the worse off when compared to the rest of the country, and often face considerable hardships including securing land rights and other basic rights to development.
Many of the state’s communities such as the Bidayuh have, relatively low human capital, lack ready access to basic amenities and facilities, and because the physical infrastructure is underdeveloped in the areas where they live, they remain poorly connected to markets.
We know that for a strong Sarawak, we need quality human capital across races including minority groups such as the Bidayuh. However, our education system today is failing us. Quality health care fail to reach the majority of Sarawakians who are in the rural areas. GDP growth is concentrated only in major towns, not in the rural areas where most Sarawakians are.
The Bidayuh and other Dayak people have seen escalating erosion to their land tenure held under Sarawak Native Customary Rights (NCR), from first massive logging, and then giant plantations and dam building have robbed many Dayak communities of their land. Without land, the physical survival and the survival of their cultural traditions and ethnic identity are threatened.
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Foundation (AIPP) secretary-general Joan Carling urged Malaysia to take up the recommendation by other countries such as Mexico, which raised the issue of poor human rights record with regards to indigenous communities during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) hearing in Geneva last year.
She said indigenous groups in Malaysia had long been fighting for their right to their native territories, and these struggles continue today. Although Malaysia adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in September 2007, there has been no real change on the ground to address the land-grab issue affecting many indigenous people, such as the Bidayuh.
Bidayuhs are a minority indigenous group in Sarawak. There are about 169,000 Bidayuhs, who constitute some 8% of the state’s population. Most of them live in Kuching, Padawan, Serian, Bau and Lundu areas in the 1st Division.
Bidayuh today remain one of the marginalized indigenous minority groups in Malaysia and represent a population of those living below poverty line. Like the other Dayaks, living mostly in the vast rural areas of Sarawak, many still live without basic amenities such as roads, jetties, clinics, treated drinking water, and electricity. Time for them has stood still since independence in 1963.
Issues of the Bidayuh Today
While the rest of the majority races in Malaysia progress in terms of socio-economic and education, the Bidayuh remain in the fringes of development and some Bidayuh communities live in poverty. Critical and urgent issues facing Bidayuh include:
1. Land are not titled and most Bidayuh are unaware of their rights under common law. Native Customary Rights land has been taken over by the state government for sale and development at any time. As Bidayuh are still dependent on subsistence farming, titled land is necessary to progress to modern farming.
2. Bidayuh participation in both the traditional and modern businesses are poor. This is hampered by limited business opportunity, highly dependent on public spending and government projects and poor networking. Some small sized firms made some inroads in small-scale construction sectors. However, none appears to be able to sustain their business due to easy entry and hence are very competitive.
3. Bidayuh form a large portion of the hardcore poor in Sarawak, living in poor housing with insufficient food supply and lack of access to quality health care, communication and transportation.
4. As most Bidayuh live in the rural areas, they are receiving the poorer quality of education than what people in the urban schools are getting. While good early childhood education is critical to the development of children, rural children are not getting pre-school development that urban children are getting. This leaves Bidayuh children to continue to lag behind others in education.
5. The high number of Bidayuh children not getting entrance into public institutions of higher learning, give rise to more Bidayuh children being left behind in the knowledge economy.
What Bidayuh Need to Achieve Equal Progress
There is widespread resentment among Bidayuh that they continue to be marginalized and continue to be left on the fringes of development. To achieve equal progress with other races, equal opportunities and privileges must be given to Bidayuh. The following are critical for the state government to provide the Bidayuh in order to achieve progress:
1. Immediate halt to indiscriminate acquisition of untitled native land by the state government.
2. Expedite the issuing of titles to all native land.
3. Allocate native land that have been designated as state land to Bidayuh families as temporary occupation for a minimum of 60 years for the purpose of modern farming. Land not developed within 3 years are to be taken back and allocated to other families.
4. Establish a well-funded and appropriately staffed Farming Program for Bidayuh that will among other things, do the following:
I. Provide financial aid to Bidayuh families to develop their land for modern farming. Access to the aid must be easy and mechanism for repayment must also be easy.
II. In addition to providing financial aid, the government must also provide quality professional assistance to upgrade the knowledge and skills of Bidayuh families on modern farming.
III. Encourage Young People to Become Farmers: The Farming Program will establish a new program to identify and train the next generation of farmers. The program will also provide incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm.
IV. Encourage Organic and Local Agriculture: The Farming Program for Bidayuh will help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and will also promote regional food systems.
V. Strong Safety Net for Family Farmers: The Farming Program for Bidayuh will provide family farmers with stability and predictability and strengthen producer protections to ensure family farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.
VI. Support Small Business Development: The Farming Program for Bidayuh will provide capital for family farmers to create value-added enterprises, like cooperative marketing initiatives and farmer-owned processing plants. They also will establish a small business and micro-enterprise initiative for rural Bidayuh kampongs.
5. Improve Rural Education for Bidayuh: From the moment our children step into a classroom, the single most important factor in determining their achievement is their teacher. To improve the quality of education that Bidayuh children are receiving, the state government must provide incentives for talented individuals to enter the teaching profession, including increased pay for teachers who work in rural areas.
The government must create a Rural Revitalization Program to attract and retain young people to rural Bidayuh kampongs. More quality community colleges should be created and increase research and educational funding for community colleges in Bidayuh areas. Early childhood development centres must be established in Bidayuh kampongs and staffed by only trained and qualified professionals. The government must ensure all rural Bidayuh children have access to pre-school; provide affordable and high-quality child care that will promote child development and ease the burden on working families.
The government must ensure competent, effective teachers in rural schools that are organized for success. The government should provide service scholarships to recruit and prepare teachers who commit to working in underserved Bidayuh dominated districts. To support teachers, the government must foster ongoing improvements in teacher education, provide mentoring for beginning teachers, create incentives for shared planning and learning time for teachers.
To retain teachers, the government must support career pathways that provide ongoing professional development and reward accomplished teachers for their expertise. An initiative must be taken to help eliminate teacher shortages in hard-to-staff areas and subjects, improve teacher retention rates, strengthen teacher preparation programs, improve professional development, and better utilize and reward accomplished teachers.
6. Increase the number of seats for Bidayuh students in public institutions of higher learning: In order for the Bidayuh community to come to equal progress in education with other races, more places should be allocated for the Bidayuh students in local public colleges and universities.
7. Improve Health Care for Bidayuh Communities: Rural health care providers are often less experienced and do not have access to the latest medical and healthcare practices in order to deliver the best clinical outcome. Rural folks have to come to Kuching city to get better medical treatment and that is often when illness become more serious. The government must increase rural access to quality care by promoting health information technologies like telemedicine and staff rural clinics and hospitals with more experienced and better trained physicians and nurses. A Nurse-Family Partnership should be established to all Bidayuh, first-time mothers each year. The Nurse-Family Partnership provides home visits by trained registered nurses to Bidayuh expectant mothers and their families in Bidayuh kampongs.
8. Establish a Bidayuh Business Development Assistance Program: As Bidayuh community lags far behind in participation in business and entrepreneurship, the Bidayuh need specific business development assistance. The assistance program will include allocation of government infrastructure projects to Bidayuh community, allocation of business premises in strategic locations and access to financial aid and grants. Rural infrastructure projects must be allocated to local Bidayuh contractors.
9. Expand Access to Jobs: The government must invest in transitional jobs and career pathway programs that implement proven methods of helping low-income Bidayuh succeed in the workforce. The government must also create a program to directly engage disadvantaged youth in job opportunities to strengthen their communities, while also providing them with practical skills in important high-growth career field.
10. Establish At Least 20 Promise Bidayuh Kampongs: The government must create at least 20 Promise Bidayuh Kampongs in areas that have high levels of poverty and low levels of student academic achievement in Bidayuh dominated districts. The Promise Bidayuh Kampongs have a full network of services, including early childhood education, youth development efforts and after-school activities, to an entire kampong from birth to college.
The government should work with community and business leaders to identify and address the unique economic development barriers of every one of the 20 Promise Bidayuh Kampongs. The government will provide additional resources to address community needs.
The government, by implementing all of the above with full commitment on a sustainable basis, can help bring the Bidayuh community on equal progress with other races. As Bidayuh progress, Sarawak and the nation thrives. The nation will be strengthened for further prosperity.
What do we do as an individual Bidayuh? On our own, we may not be able to change the future, but we can invent it through out collective effort. The power is in our hands. We owe it to the future generations to make the change. We must because we can.