How did the farms in the Kinta district come about?

The Kinta farmers today are largely the descendants of tin-mining 'coolies', who were resettled into 'new villages'

A new village in the 1950s

The Kinta district in Perak is one of the most productive areas for the production of cash crops and food.

Many of us are familiar with Menglembu groundnuts, which are actually grown throughout the Kinta valley.

Tapioca is grown in the foothills, processed and then exported to countries like Japan and Taiwan for use in cosmetics and medicine.

Kinta farmers also grow lots of fruits, ranging from red jambu air (syzygium samarangense) and green jambu batu (psidium guajava) to pomelos.

Plenty of everyday vegetables, coffee and chillies are grown in little plots of land around the New Villages and estates.

Fresh water carp, reared in abandoned mining pools, is exported to all parts of the country and Singapore.

Yet the farmers and cultivators do not own the land they have tilled for a couple of generations.

Instead, all the cultivated land is state land or privately owned, originally for tin mining purposes.

How did this come about?

In the 1910s, some 120,000 people were employed in the labour-intensive tin-mining industry.

Gradually, the mining industry grew increasingly mechanised with the introduction of the hydraulic pump, the monitor (which uses pressurised water jets through a nozzle called the monitor to break up materials) and, from 1912, the dredge.

Such was the mechanisation that by the eve of the Japanese invasion during World War Two, the total employed in the tin mines in the Kinta had dropped to 20,000.

This explains the large numbers involved in ‘squatter’ agriculture.

The Kinta district was also a haven for Chin Peng and the Communist Party of Malaysia in the hills. It is here that the Bintang Range meets the Main Range.

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To cut off supply lines for the communists, the British resettled rural dwellers into tightly guarded “new villages” from 1952 to 1954. The Kinta district thus ended up with the largest number of New Villages and resettled folk.

So the problem of a lack of legal tenure for ‘squatter farmers’ is an age-old one dating back to before World War Two. There has been no attempt to resolve this problem for decades.

The farmers today are mainly the children of the ‘coolies’ employed in the tin mines, which are essentially exhausted now.

Before the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) of the present era, the Labour Party-Socialist Front and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) used to fight for these farmers’ rights.

Reference: Francis Loh, Beyond the Tin Mines: Coolies, Squatters and New Villages in the Kinta Valley, Malaysia c 1880-1980, PhD thesis, Oxford University Press 1988



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The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
Dr Francis Loh served as honorary secretary of Aliran for 20 years and then president of Aliran for five years from 2011 to 2016. He obtained a doctorate in political science and Southeast Asian studies from Cornell University and retired as professor of politics in Universiti Sains Malaysia. He continues to serve on the Aliran executive committee
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