The Impact Of Mechanization And Modernization On The Rural Area Of Bario Essay

Introduction to Bario

The Kelabit Highlands, Bario, is located at the north of Sarawak, Malaysia, but it is not well known through some parts of Sarawak. The Kelabit highlands of Sarawak is covered by mountainous region. The ecosystems in the mountainous region are very unique because there are agriculture and tourism developments that are being done even up till now. Harris (2009) stated that Bario is the homeland to the Kelabit people, one of the minorities numbering around 5,000 people, of 1,000 who still lives in or around Bario. This highlands have received a steady amount of tourists’ visit, which then increased in numbers over the recent years. Most of these tourists would be going for attractions such as trekking through the highland tropical rainforest environment and to experience the Kelabit culture and hospitality, while enjoying the tropical climate, where temperature and humidity are conditioned around 1,200m above sea level by elevation. According to Harris (2009), the airstrip that was built by the British in the 1960s, made it possible for state administrators to fly and visit Bario. The guests would stay at the closest house, which is also the home of the headman in Bario. However, the guests that visited did not feel like they should pay for any of their hospitality, until eventually the headman’s son placed a sign outside of their house, claiming that it is a “guest house”, also known as the term “home stay”. The family learned that this could be a way of making an income by entertaining guests. According to Jiwan (2006), the first agriculture station and development that has been done was back in 1968 whereby it provides extension of works to the locals and facilitating research support activities.

The agriculture that they began expanding with was the unique Bario rice. With the Bario rice, they were able to expand the development. The Bario rice even won the “Slow Food Presidia Foundation Award” from Italy back in the year 2002 (Jiwan, 2006). Jiwan (2006) also mentions that most of the common occupations that are in Bario involves with agricultural development which consist of 55% of them being farmers. The types of development that favoured by the people in Bario is tourist attractions, agriculture activities and research areas. According to Jiwan (2006), with all of these development activities, it has brought tons of wealth to the Kelabit community in Bario. The purpose of this paper is to determine whether modernization or mechanization for harvesting is beneficial for Bario in terms of developing their agriculture and economics. The research has been conducted by reading multiple articles and journals that are provided by different universities and other researchers.

Impact of Mechanization and Economy

The rice cultivation has a huge social and cultural significance. It plays a part in the traditional religion of the Kelabit group, one of the minorities in Sarawak. Rice is also one of the most important and prestigious thing to Kelabit culture. Even though traditional rice cultivation practices has been largely abandoned, the Kelabit continues to identify themselves as prestige rice farmers.

Bario rice has presented and economic opportunity despite the longer growing season than lowland varieties such as Bujang rice. The Bario Rice Development Project, which introduced mechanization into the highlands, was funded by the Malaysian Federal government and the total funds that are provided was RM17 million in order to increase the nation’s rice self-sufficiency level of rice. The government’s goal were intended for national, not being aimed at only the Bario society in particular or the fact that Bario rice was a very unique crop that are sold at a higher price than the other rice varieties. The project is to introduce mechanized agriculture to 200 hectares of rice fields in the area, increasing in total of rice cultivation area by 200%.

According to Jiwan (2015), sustainability, environmental friendly and eco sounds are a few terms that are widely used these days and was emphasized almost in any industry which involved in agriculture, forestry and tourism industry. It is because of these technology and to cope up with modernization, the cost of living in Bario is far much higher compare to a metropolitan or a city. It is true that modernization had made live way easier for those people who is living in Bario, but also degrading it sustainability as there is high dependency on imported materials such as fuel, processed food and construction materials, and natural resources could not be balance up with their local production capacity. According to Marcus (2015), the Malaysian government’s response to the slow development of agriculture is by promoting and bringing the mechanization of rice agriculture. To achieve this goal, they have decided to invest in modernization project of rice cultivation in Bario. The rural economy in Malaysia has been agriculture based since the year of 1960s.

The government has sought to achieve the self-sufficiency in rice production, but the traditional methods of cultivating rice have failed to produce enough in a year and farmers have continued to either abandon their rice fields, convert them into a higher yielding crops, or move into the cities. As part of the solution to it, the government encouraged mechanization to increase efficiency and to revive abandoned rice fields. There are both positive and negative impacts of the introduction of modern agricultural methods and intensive mechanization of rice cultivation on the livelihoods in Bario. It is known that Ceria brought in many new technologies in order to produce the Bario rice more efficiently. Instead of using the traditional planting method, Bario rice is currently being cultivateв with mechanization by the company. According to Marcus (2015), by mechanizing rice cultivation in Bario, it has made the produce enough rice every year. At the same time, high dependency on resources to operate all of these technologies are needed such as fuel, and natural resources such as fire wood. These dependency has caused the stability of economics to stagger within the livelihood in Bario as the cost of living in Bario is very costly.

Natural resources or natural capital are also part of financial capital, because access to land provides employment and income to farmers. These explains why even in improving the cultivation of rice will also have an impact with the economy in Bario. According to Jiwan (2015), some locals and visitors mention around that in Bario, the currency is charged in USD (United States Dollars) instead using the local RM (Ringgit Malaysia). This is because everything is significantly costly than in Miri and found that the cost of living in Bario is high due to the cost of transporting goods and resources from Miri by air or on timber roads.

Population & Work Force in Bario

According to Harris (2009), majority of the people who still lives in Bario are senior citizens. Hence, they could not tend to their paddy fields like they used to before. These are where mechanizing rice cultivation is beneficial as the machines are the ones that are doing the work. The cost of labor is not high and the efficiency of harvesting greatly increased. Although the main activities and economy in Bario revolves around rice cultivation and it was self-sufficient back then, like the rest of Malaysia, it now faces a decline in self-sufficiency. Today, those who live in Bario relies heavily on imported rice as well. Younger individuals are more likely to change occupations, and more likely to prefer a non-farm work, than the older individuals. This has led to the younger population to decrease from rural areas, leaving the older individuals behind. Children may be the next successor over the farm from their parents, but this has not been the case in Bario. There are reasons for their children to leave the farm, as they receive education and jobs in town may have caused this to happen, and the risk of them not coming back to the farm, unless the expected income from farming is significantly higher than their current incomeю

After conducting a socio-economic survey, the average age of the respondents was 54 years old. The population residing in Bario was observed to be of aging parents without their adult children and young parents with their children who are still attending primary and secondary school. This results in an inability to farm. Since the secondary school in Bario only offers up to Secondary 3, most students move to towns or cities, particularly Miri, to pursue further education. It is believed that urban migration to Miri began at the 1960s, when the airstrip was built and formal education was introduced in Bario. The number of urban migration increased throughout 1970s to the 1990s era. It is difficult to measure accurately of how many Kelabit actually moved out of Bario, as they tend to leave depending on the availability of jobs. It has involved a very large proportion of the total population, estimated to be half of the population left Bario.

As working adults went out to seek better paying jobs, the farm is left to grow weeds and unattended. The aging folks do not have the strength to maintain their farm. The resulting of labor shortage is one of the reasons for implementing a mechanization scheme in the rice fields. According to Marcus (2015), the absence of younger or working age Kelabit is an issue in Bario, where the older population is increasing while the younger generations, both female and male, continue to move out after the age of 15 years old to attain further education. The total number of households and population varies depending on the season. Those who live in Bario does travel to the cities and nearby longhouses but for those that visit Miri, they tend to stay away from Bario longer than a week or sometimes even months. In the year 2015, children, including the ones who are at the local school, total up to 289 of the residents living in Bario. According to Jiwan (2015), it does help the aging group of people (senior citizens) with their farms but at the same time, the mechanization of rice cultivation are destroying the Kelabit traditional culture which is seen as the prestige rice farmers.


After reading these articles and journals, it can be concludeв that mechanization and modernization does bring an advantage to the rural area of Bario. It helps the older generations, senior citizens, with maintaining their rice fields and at the same time earning an income as Bario rice is one of the main incomes. With mechanization, the produce of rice cultivation meets with the self-sufficiency level on Malaysia. Traditional method of rice cultivation has not met the self-sufficiency level. Thus, the government prefers to mechanize the rice cultivation in Bario in order to produce more of the crops. The younger generations tend to leave Bario to pursue better paying jobs which also degrade the amount of labor which is available in Bario. Mechanization in rice cultivation is one of the best solution to sort this out.

On the other hand, modernization and mechanization has degraded the local economy because of the high dependency on imported materials. The cost of living in Bario is far much higher than the cities. The people have to pay the amount of importing the goods and selling them in a higher price. Take an example of the field trip. A can of chips cost RM7 which usually people can buy in the cities for only RM3 to RM4. Not only is degrades the sustainability in economics, but also destroying the culture of Kelabit as prestige rice farmers. Traditional methods eventually died out if mechanizing rice cultivation continues to grow. Not only it would affect the Kelabit people, at the same time other cultures as well such as the Kayan group of people. Modernization and mechanization has two points of views which is the beneficial and also the disadvantage.

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