It was almost noon and a villager was spotted watering papaya saplings outside his house in Kampung Baru Kuala Bikam, Bidor, Perak.
Oblivious to the scorching heat and the traffic zooming past, his attention was on the saplings by the roadside.
The over 70-year-old village is no longer what it used to be with a new road cutting through it since early this year.
Travelers from the south heading to Teluk Intan and Sitiawan and vice versa use the road – a 7km stretch that links to the Sungkai toll plaza.
The road is also a little narrow, he said, adding that motorists often stop by the roadside to buy fruit. There are more than 20 fruit stalls lining the road outside the village.
While the road has brought business opportunities to the villagers, Poh Kuang said safety should be a priority.
“There are many heavy vehicles plying this road. Speeding is also a worry,” he said, expressing hope that the authorities will address the villagers’ concerns.
Kampung Baru Kuala Bikam is an agricultural village famous for fruits such as papaya, mango and jambu air.
But this predominantly Teochew village with some 1,500 residents spanning at least three generations, faces a shortage of farm land and job opportunities.
“Many young people move to big cities to look for jobs or business opportunities,” said the 60-year-old Poh Kuang who has five children and eight grandchildren.
One of his sons has returned to the village to help him manage the family’s fruit farms.
Another two sons, he added, are in Johor and Malacca to manage the family’s fruit business which includes cafes specializing in fruit desserts.
On the potential of agri- and eco-tourism becoming big in rural areas, Poh Kuang said there is more to this than meets the eye.
“We have seen how some villages in China were transformed into popular tourist attractions in a matter of months.
“But ideas alone are not enough for something of that magnitude to work,” he said, pointing out that the dramatic transformation of villages in China has the support of the government.
Poh Kuang noted that those who return after working in cities do not have many options other than starting small businesses such as selling fruits.
While there are not many who have returned, he does not discount the possibility that more will follow suit given the high cost of living in the cities and difficulty in finding suitable jobs.
“Life in cities is increasingly difficult nowadays. However, life in a village is not easy either.”
Poh Kuang said the villagers learned how to farm through experience.
“It is all about hard work and perseverance,” he added.
Brothers Lim Chin Huat, 55, and Lim Eng Huat, 67, who operate a roadside fruit stall, said although there are tourists who come to buy fruits, there are not many of them. Their stall is open between 8am and 8pm.
Chin Huat said some hikers who visit the nearby Bukit Kuala Bikam also buy fruits from the village.
“Business is good in the evening when people return home after work,” he said.
While the number of travelers may surge during school and public holidays and on weekends, Eng Huat said this also brings another set of problems.
“There are traffic jams. There is no parking space. The situation can be quite chaotic and this is certainly not good for business,” he said.
Eng Huat added that there was a tendency for customers to haggle as they expect fruits straight from the farm to be cheaper.
“Some of the prices quoted by customers are below my cost price,” he quipped.
Credits: The Star