BENTONG: Are the glory days of the Bentong ginger, the country’s premier ginger, grown on the hilly slopes of Kampung Bukit Tinggi, near here, coming to an end?

Farmers, who had been planting the rhizome for the past five decades, are facing an uncertain future as they are unable to renew their land permits with the Pahang Forestry Department to continue operating this year.

Some 231 farmers have been operating their farms, which cover 286ha of the hilly slopes of the Bukit Tinggi forest reserve, since 2008.

They never encountered problems until early this year, when reminder letters from the Forestry Department to renew their land use permits did not arrive at their doorstep.

The farmers were perplexed when told, at a dialogue session with a state executive council member to seek clarification about their land status on May 13, that their farms would make way for a private development project and they would instead be given another piece of land to farm on.

The series of development has given rise to concerns among the farmers as they have been working on ginger farms for three generations, and it has been their only source of income.

Although the farmers want to continue working on their piece of land, the act of some individuals, believed to have links with the private company, undertaking a survey and painting red markings in certain areas of their farm has left them feeling uneasy.

Sun Chin, whose father was among the first generation of farmers to clear the land and venture into vegetable farming in the 1960s, said he used to help his father plant water spinach (kangkung air).

The 66-year-old father of one said due to the poor water quality, which was contaminated as the surrounding areas were being developed, their spinach did not grow well, prompting his father, along with the other farmers, to plant ginger.

“Surprisingly, ginger grew well and everyone began planting it. During the off season, we planted other vegetables. I can claim to be an expert on ginger. I started with zero knowledge about ginger and still practise traditional farming methods till today.

“Failure to obtain the permit is making us worried. Most of the farmers are elderly and we do not have much time if the government orders us to move elsewhere. Cultivating ginger takes about three years and there will be no income for the first year before we can sell it.”

He described plans to relocate the farmers as being “easier said than done”.

Sun said they had been legally operating on the land since 2008 and never expected to face such a dilemma.

“The state government proposed a piece of land about an hour from here. That area is not suitable for ginger plantation as the soil has lots of pebbles.

“Back in the 1970s, people went there to start farming but they failed as the ginger did not grow well; its size was only as big as one’s palm.

“The new site is surrounded by hills and remains as the only site where no one has explored major farming. The farmers here know that the soil there is not suitable to grow ginger, so how do you expect us to move there?”

He added that the farmers would do whatever it took to remain at the site.

“Time is running out. We are not young and we cannot spend long hours preparing the farm or building infrastructure. Since we have been operating legally, why don’t they allow us (to stay on the current land)?”