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KENINGAU: Birikan Bintangon, 65, is still adept in using a ‘sapuk’, the blowpipe that he still keeps as a nostalgic reminder of his ancestor’s dependence on the weapon for survival.

Bintangon was born and bred at Kampung Dalit, a remote village in the interior of Keningau, Sabah, an indomitable place during the colonial days.

Situated about 40 km from Keningau township with a population mostly made up of Murut community, Dalit was only accessible to the outsiders when a gravel road connecting Karamotoi was completed in the early 1980s.

Nowadays Bintangon rarely hunts wild animals with his old sapuk, which he inherited from his great grandfather, as the virgin forest nearby has shrunk tremendously.

And the virgin jungle around Dalit shrunk not because of indiscriminate cutting of trees or logging but for a good reason. The jungle has paved way for the high impact agricultural land project known as Projek Pekebun Kecil Terancang (PPKT).

The government initiated land development project implemented by the Sabah Land Development Board (SLDB) was aimed at uplifting the socio-economic being of the rural community.

The 1,657 hectares PPKT project in Dalit is being implemented in stages beginning 1998 and has since benefitted some 355 people from four neighbouring villages in the district of Sook – Dalit Station, Dalit Laut, Punggol and Kalampun.

The selected villagers are in fact stake holders or participants in the PPKT with some of them being employed on daily wages for doing field works.

Participants also receive quarterly dividend payments.

“In many ways, the PPKT project has indeed solved many of our problems. Most importantly, it provided us the opportunity to earn more sustainable income.

“Before this, not only our village was isolated but we make living through shifting cultivation of hill paddy, hunting with sapuk or ‘tarik rotan’ (collect wild rattan). There were cases where sick villagers die while traveling on foot to seek medical treatment at Keningau or Tenom. Some were buried in the jungle,” he told Bernama.

“The PPKT project was really an eye-opener to us and I recalled how excited I was when I received my first dividend payment. At that moment, I was asking myself, what could possibly be our future if we are still roaming the forest with the sapuk. It may look like an easy-going life but we actually have no future,” he said.

A visit to Dalit found out that the four villages within the PPKT project are not only accessible by gravel road but enjoy public facilities such as primary school, clinic, chapel, community hall and is waiting for the connection of power supply.

According to Syaheddrul R Joddari, SLDB’s Head of Corporate Communication Unit, to date SLDB being a state government agency has implemented land development programmes encompassing a total of 5,325 hectares of land throughout Sabah under the PPKT concept involving 1,377 participants.

Other government-backed rural agricultural development schemes also carried out by SLDB are Mini Estet Sejahtera (MESEJ), Agropolitan schemes and Communal Land titles.

Presently, around 89 percent of SLDB’s palm oil plantation activities around the state involve 6,874 participants and settlers. More rural participants are also expected to benefit from the agency’s agricultural land project which are currently being developed.

Meanwhile, SLDB chairman, Datuk Abdul Rahim Ismail said the agency would give special emphasis on human capital development like sending staff for technical, management and supervisory skills training.

“With the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) recently, we will be more aggressive in drafting plans to enhance human capital development to support the 11th Malaysia Plan (RMK-11).

“SLDB will also be venturing into commercial activities, like focusing in the oil palm industry’s downstream product,” he said. --BERNAMA

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