Foreigners outnumber local farmers

THE smell of clove cigarettes permeates the cool windy air at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu in Monteki, Kundasang.

It comes from men puffing away as they pile cabbages into an oversized basket that can load up to 100kg. The cabbages would then be stored in a hut.

These men are Indonesians, soft-spoken but reticent.

Maybe it is because they fear the gloomy weather would force them to stop harvesting the cabbages or maybe it is the fact that they are here illegally.

Questions are answered nonchalantly as they continued piling the cabbages in a circular pattern inside the basket, called wakid, to maximise the space.

When one is asked if he had scaled the mountain, which could be seen at the edge of the village on clear days, he says: Kami pendatang. Mahu buat apa pun tidak berani." (We are immigrants. We don't dare do anything).

That ends the conversation.

The Monteki area borders the Mount Kinabalu National Park. It is less than two km from the Mesilau Nature Resort, one of the two main routes for climbers to scale the 4,095m peak.

Immigrants, in hundreds, if not thousands, work on the many vegetable plots scattered in the Monteki and adjacent Mesilou areas, according to locals from surrounding villages. This include those who are here legally and illegally.

Immigrants who are here legally are employed by locals or their dependents while the illegals are those without valid travel documents and those with documents but are involved in either planting or selling of vegetables.

Vegetable plots surround the two villages, situated at an altitude of between 2,100m and 2,400m above sea level, stretching along the five-kilometre gravel road.

A farmer from Mesilou, Sani Malibin (right), says there are more foreigners planting vegetables in the two villages than locals.

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