THERE are three things that are obvious in Sekinchan five years after the last general election - the building of the West Coast Expressway towards Teluk Intan, the increasing cost of things and the growing number of seniors.
Sekinchan’s issues and that of neighbouring Sungai Panjang revolve around the needs of farmers and fisherman as these two state seats (under the Sungai Besar parliamentary constituency which fall under the Sabak Bernam district) are abundant with padi fields and fishing villages.
If five years ago farmers were doing reasonably well, things are not looking as rosy for the padi growers, including Sekinchan farmers who produce the highest padi yield in the country.
There are 1,400ha of land allocated for agriculture activities such as crop, vegetable and fruit planting in Sekinchan.
Farmers say they suffered losses in the last three padi harvesting seasons due to pest attacks, high land rental, high moisture content as well as payment cuts from their yield, costly pesticides and insecticides as well as lack of support for their farming contributions to the country.
Meanwhile, fishermen in Bagan Sungai Besar and Bagan Sekinchan in the Sungai Besar constituency, which is known for its fishing villages, are concerned with the lack of security at sea.
Over in Sekinchan, fishermen are protesting against the switch from the medium sized 20 tonne boat (Class B licence) to the bigger 40 tonne boat (Class C licence).
These are among the issues that MCA newcomer Lee Yee Yuan and three-term state assemblyman Ng Suee Lim, and a possible PAS candidate have to grapple with when contesting for votes.
Farmer Sam Fai, 72, said that pest attack on padi was a serious problem and a real concern in the last one-and-a-half years.
“Previously, farmers could get a yield of 11 tonnes of padi per plot (1.2ha) but now the average is seven tonnes,” said Fai who planted padi on two plots of land and another plot with vegetables and fruits.
Having suffered a loss of about five tonnes of padi amounting to RM5,000 in one season, despite giving extra care to his crop, Fai said he only managed a yield of nine tonnes for each plot.
“If not for the support of my children, I would not have much to eat,” said Fai who has six children.
The challenges farmers face does not end there.
“Land rental is very high now and the price of fertilisers and pesticides have increased in the last two years.
“Before, the rental was RM4,000 for a 1.2ha plot of land, now it is RM6,000,” said Fai, who owns a plot of land and rents two.
At his age, Fai still tends to his farm because hiring more workers would mean more expenses and almost no income for him and his family.
When asked what he would want from the elected representatives, he said he wanted the 18% payment cuts made for moisture percentage in padi to be reduced to not more than 12%.
“We would like to plant fragrant rice for better income. We also wish that we can market rice to other states,” he said, adding that currently, farmers could only sell their harvest within Selangor.
A resident who wanted to be known as Pan, 75, said he paid RM20,000 to renew his leasehold land for his house for another 60 years and suffered padi losses in the last three seasons due to pest attack.
Born in Tanjong Karang, Pan moved to Sekinchan with his family in 1950.
He said his 1.2ha plot used to give him a 10-tonne yield, allowing an income of RM6,000.
Now, it was difficult to even get RM2,000 and this was not enough to cover the land rental of RM6,000.
According to an industry expert, the standard rate for moisture content is 18% although the actual content brought in by farmers was 25% to 30% waste, which include water, grass, sand, stones, wheat and weeds.
He said that machine was used to force dry padi and this caused the grains to break.
“The Government, that is to be elected, should invest in building a drying field near the rice complex as this could bring down the moisture content payment deduction to less than 5%,” he said.
Meanwhile, fishermen who were required to change their licence from Class B to C had to fish at eight to 10 nautical miles from the shore when previously, it was five to eight nautical miles.
Bagan Sekinchan fisherman Heng Joo Khaw, 53, said their boats were too small and it was dangerous for them to travel further out due to the wind and waves.
“We hope the Class B licence can be maintained for fishing at six to eight nautical miles,” said Heng who has a boat weighing less than 20 tonnes.
The concern with Class B licensed boats is that the trawlers go right to the seabed and swipe everything with it, posing environmental destruction concerns.
The other concern fishermen with Class B licence have is that they cannot hire foreign workers.
Heng said they faced difficulties hiring locals because they would not work in the industry considered dirty, smelly and dangerous.
Another fisherman Chia Choon Theng, 34, said the change of licence affected mostly Sekinchan fishermen because up to 50% owned a Class B licence while the rest were Class A (10%) and Class C (40%).
He said that Class C boats cost RM1mil.
“It is too costly for fishermen to change to bigger boats. Moreover, repair costs is very expensive now,” said Chia who has a Class C licence boat weighing 40,000 tonnes.
He said the issue had been discussed with the Government for many years through the fishermen’s association in Sekinchan but nothing was resolved.
Ng said fishermen were also concerned about their safety at sea as some had been caught for allegedly being in Indonesian waters when their GPS showed that they were still in Malaysian waters.
Sekinchan farmers, he said hoped that farmers could plant fragrant rice to increase their income.
The farmers were not allowed to plant fragrant rice because they were informed that they did not have the ability to overcome pest attacks but why were farmers in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia successful planting the variety, he asked.
Meanwhile, MCA candidate Lee said the issue of the boat licence was raised at Parliament a few weeks ago and the caretaker Government could not proceed with the request yet.
He said the foreign labour issue as well as farmers’ problems would be addressed in a week or two with the Sungai Besar Barisan candidate.