Hardcore-poverty reduction project ready to take off

7/31/2009 — The Star
It’s all systems go for the first phase of a sheep farming project here with the arrival of a batch of 649 sheep from Australia.
This agropolitan project under the East Coast Economic Region (ECER) development programme is aimed at reducing hardcore poverty.
Sheep rearing is one of the primary activities under the Ecer masterplan. The other is oil palm plantation. The RM90mil sheep husbandry project with 3,500 sheep is spread out over 2,000ha in Kampung Runchang, an orang asli resettlement area, and Batu 8 Mukim Bebar.
Youths from the local communities are hired as general workers and trained in the day-to-day duties of sheep farming.
The newly-arrived herd of Dorper sheep made up of 28 rams and 621 ewes reached the Kampung Runchang station after a 24-hour journey by air and road that started in Melbourne.
Thirty villagers have been hired to care for the sheep housed in six production units.
ECER social development division general manager Zulkifli Yaakob said the orang asli workers were paid RM500 monthly for a four-hour workday.
He said they would have the rest of the day free to take on other jobs such as collecting rattan in the forest and working on construction sites.
“With the project, they will have permanent jobs and a fixed income.
Worker Khairil Nizam Ali, 23, said he had been searching for a permanent job for some time and was glad to be offered the job at the farm.
He said he did not earn much previously at a fruit orchard nearby.
Khairil hoped the experience and knowledge gained from the project would enable him to start his own sheep farm.
Azian Semana, whose husband works on the farm, said she was happy her husband Rizal Manaf, 24, had a permanent job.
She said that Rizal had worked in Kluang, Johor, and she had been worried about him living away from the village.
“We have a daughter and she missed him a lot when he was away.
“It is good that my husband has a job here now,” she added.
The project in Kampung Runchang is the first of its kind in this country, with Felda being appointed as the implementing agency.
Felda subsidiaries will employ the workers, provide training and technical support, monitor product quality and operate a buy-back service.
The Dorper breed was chosen because it requires minimal input of labour and is considered an economical breed. It does not need shearing or crutching and is disease-resistant. It is a South African breed developed by crossing the Dorset Horn and Blackhead Persian breeds.
The Dorper is the second-largest breed in South Africa with over 10 million head. In recent years, it has become popular in the Middle East, Canada, Australia, South America, Mexico and the United States. In the Malaysian project, it is being reared for its meat.
Mohd Yusof said that pure-bred Dorper rams could reach 120kg while the ewes weighed about half of that.
“The Dorper can thrive in harsh conditions. They are a fertile breed with the potential for lambing every eight months,” he said, adding that the second phase of the project involving Mukim Bebar was expected to start in September.