ORANG Asli in Terengganu who have yet to assimilate in new settlements have been manipulated by unscrupulous traders.
This is to not only extract just agarwood and rattan, but also to clear forest illegally to plant oil palm.
The Orang Asli are paid a meagre income of below RM20 for less than a gramme of agarwood or gaharu by traders who acted as middlemen and sold the scented resin for more than 20 times the price to unsuspecting buyers.
They were also used by illegal loggers to clear small areas of forests for timber. These illegal loggers give the Orang Asli oil palm trees as payment to clear the forests.
“While the Orang Asli have the right to enter the forest and forage for food and obtain materials to build their shelters, they have been manipulated by greedy traders who abused their (Orang Asli) privileges to extract gaharu and fell timber,” said state Forestry director Datuk Ahmad Fadzil Abdul Majid.
“They get paid a very small amount for their labour and the danger they have to go through while looking for gaharu.
“They also risk being arrested for illegal logging,” he told the New Straits Times.
Fadzil said the department’s enforcement unit had been monitoring the activities of the Orang Asli and those suspected of being manipulated by outsiders were given warnings and told to take only what they require for their own consumption.
“We will arrest them if they are caught logging illegally. We want to know who supports them because it is not cheap to buy oil palm trees which are sold at RM20 per plant and for one acre they will need 500 trees,” he said.
He added that it was unlikely that the Orang Asli had RM10,000 to buy oil palm or hire excavators to terrace the land for planting the oil palm or to buy fertilisers and pesticides to maintain even a small acreage.
“Someone must be giving them money to remove the trees from the forest and supplying the oil palm trees.
“Unless they are working on land designated for oil palm under the Orang Asli Affairs Department, then they have no right to clear the forest.
“We are in contact with the Orang Asli Affairs Department to identify affected areas. We have issued warnings and ordered them to stop the illegal activity.
“We do not want wild gaharu to be harvested and sold. Our men know the difference between cultured and wild gaharu,” he said.