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Land use for rubber and rice in Malaya, 1947-1960 Degani, Amina Hatim

Abstract

This is an exploratory study. Its purpose is to delineate and identify the important factors influencing land use in Malaya during the period 1947 to I960. Since the subject of land use is very wide our aim is to deal only with agricultural land use. Other uses are discussed only incidentally or as they are involved in the shifting uses of land. The scope and nature of land use patterns in Malaya as in other countries, is a reflection of economic, geographical and political factors. Land use usually reflects the operation of the principle of comparative advantage. Theoretically different types of land would normally be put to their best uses and any instability which exists would be cleared up by the market mechanism. Institutional barriers often impede this development as we show in the Malayan case. Two conflicts are apparent in the land use policies in Malaya. The first is between rubber and rice; that is, whether to specialise in the production of rubber, over which Malaya has a comparative advantage, or to produce rice for subsistence over which Malaya does not have a comparative advantage. Of course the rational course from an economic point of view is to produce more rubber. But more than economics are involved in such issues. The other conflict is whether to produce rubber on estates, which are the large scale enterprises, or on smallholdings, which are the peasant, small scale enterprises. Again more than economics, are involved. In this study attention is focussed primarily on the rubber-rice land use pattern. Even then rubber gets most of the attention. Technical questions especially those relating to rubber are of considerable interest but these are discussed only insofar as they have general economic relevance. The study as a whole can be divided into three parts. Chapters I and II comprise the first section. The opening chapter contains the economic and historical background to the land use patterns in Malaya and points out the rubber-rice land use pattern. In Chapter II we discuss the theoretical, suggested effects of the dual pattern of land utilisation. An attempt is also made to apply the dualistic theories of economic growth to Malaya in order to ascertain whether the conclusions of these theorists are verified in Malaya. The second section comprises of Chapter III. Here we discuss the obstacles to good land utilisation in the post war period. The third major section takes up the remaining chapters, all of which deal largely with rubber, which is one of the mainstays of the Malayan economy. In Chapter IV we discuss the relative efficiency of estates and smallholdings as producers of rubber. This chapter may be said to contain the heart of the matter since it helps us to evaluate two recent developments, which are discussed in Chapters V and VI. Chapter V, the "break-up" of rubber estates, discusses the various aspects of estates which have been diminishing in size. The most important effect of this is the creation of smallholdings and a loss in government revenue. The second recent development, the land development schemes initiated by the government, is discussed in Chapter VI. Here again the chief effect is the creation of rubber smallholdings. The concluding chapter has the twofold aim of summarising the main findings to this study and of setting out briefly the possible future trends of land use in Malaya.

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