This post is an extract of the speech delivered during DSE and IFPRI Conference in Kuala Lumpur on 3rd October 1994.
Redefinition of Poverty
In order to widen the scope of activity, the Ministry of Agriculture has redefined poverty or relative poverty as not to mean poverty of income alone but inclusive of thought, health, sight, hearing, taste, smell and emotion.
Poverty of taste resulted in international cooking courses organised by Malaysia Agriculture Research Development Institute (MARDI) for wives of farmers and fishermen.
Poverty of hearing needed music and good advice, resulting with the formation of the Farmers’ Symphony Orchestra.
Poverty of sight resulted in the collection of used spectacles by WIPER – World Institute for Poverty Eradication.
There are many people with money and status but still unhappy. There are many poor people who have come out of poverty but lived in a poor quality of life. They still do not appreciate sports, music, recreation, good taste, flowers and beautiful landscape. We must be careful of individuals and institutions who are interested in eradicating poverty.
There is a scheme in a village in Langkawi, Malaysia whereby the poor can borrow money to finance their small businesses. These loans are not repaid from the borrowers’ income but from new and bigger loans. This is considered as 100 per cent repayment of such loans. The poor will be in perpetual indebtedness under this scheme. They will remain poor.
Poverty of Choice
The poor, however, do not choose to be poor. They do not know what to choose to come out of poverty. As the poor cannot be lectured on poverty eradication, they need to really see their choices in order to change themselves.
The government had built the Agriculture Park as a school for our farmers. This park combines beauty and utility, knowledge and inspiration. Poor and non-poor farmers change their paradigm towards agriculture when they visit the park.
It is now a tourist attraction. In 1993, it was visited by 1.8 million people; it is the second most visited places in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur. I hope you will find time to visit the park.
The building of the park, the ongoing “Love Our Rivers” campaign which we have started and the Annual National Landscaping Competition which is now in its third year, will certainly improve the quality of life for all. Besides Kuala Lumpur and the Agricultural Park, traditional and fishing villages will soon be turned into gardens.
Malaysia aims to be a garden nation.
Jihad against Poverty
In 1991, we launched Jihad Basmi Kemiskinan or holy war against poverty. The misinterpreted word jihad, which frightens Westerners, is used to frighten poverty.
We firmly believe that in the perennial balancing of sustainability, growth and poverty alleviation, farmers are not the problem. Far from it and for the reasons I have presented, they clearly are the solution.