some of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is endowed with substantial areas of
little used or unused land, some left from slash and burn and others logged over or still
in virgin jungle. For these countries such land areas offer both a potential human
"safety valve" as populations increase, and an opportunity to expand production
of crops increasingly demanded at home or in the world market.
Yet, for most of Southeast Asia resettlement often has remained a distant goal.
Repeatedly, landless families from overcrowded communities have migrated to the frontier,
only to fail as pioneering farmers. They have been defeated by lack of transportation and
ineffective law and order, or they were without the means and skills to bring appropriate
crops into production and to market. Individual families in particular have foundered,
where effective cooperation among neighbors might have saved them all.
Even before Malaysian independence in 1957, leaders of the emerging nation studied how
to transform landless laborers into productive planters. The Emergency, resulting from
communist insurrection, and racial tensions, arising from economic and cultural
differences among Malays, Indians and Chinese, demanded basic solutions. Over 116,000
unprocessed land applications had accumulated, and land hunger was compounded by rural
unemployment and poverty.
Initially, the federal government relied upon providing an infrastructure of roads,
schools, public health facilities and mosques, leaving much of the actual land development
to individual states. When this proved inadequate, the Federal Land Development Authority
(FELDA) shifted to a "systems approach." Each resettlement project was planned
in advance; contractors built roads, houses and other facilities, cleared land and planted
rubber and oil palm trees. As selected families moved in they earned a subsistence
allowance tending the eight or ten acres assigned to them, meanwhile starting orchards and
gardens on their two-acre home sites. More recently FELDA shifted to allotting settlers
shares in jointly managed plantation blocks.
Nearly 60,000 families, resettled on approximately 1.3 million acres, are repaying most
capital costs with interest over 20 years. Settler family monthly incomes frequently equal
US$245 to US$300 or more. Increasingly, farm leaders share in FELDA's management of
marketing, and operation of oil palm mills and rubber factories, as they have done in
recent expansion into production of sugar and cocoa.
More than anyone else, the modest public servant who has made a success of FELDA is
Raja MUHAMMAD ALIAS. Born in Negri Sembilan in 1932, he entered the Malayan Civil Service
in 1958, serving with distinction as District Officer. He was appointed Deputy Chairman of
FELDA in 1966 and was elevated to Group Chairman in 1979.
Raja ALIAS has steadily shaped FELDA as a more human-oriented enterprise. By
recognizing and mobilizing the initiative of settlers, he is fostering new communities
with a growing sense of self-reliance. A thorough planner who has resisted political
pressures by insisting FELDA must follow rules, he has quietly organized a high-caliber
staff. His own working hours are longest. He refuses fees from the many FELDA-connected
enterprises he helps direct. His schoolteacher wife shares family costs. With this quality
of commitment he has been able to demonstrate that even on some of Malaysia's less fertile
lateritic soils, once-indigent families can create productive agriculture and contribute
to community and national well-being.
In electing Raja MUHAMMAD ALIAS to receive the 1980 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his steadfast, principled
administration in translating Malaysia's "land for the landless" schemes into