Growing distress in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands

A network of greenhouses spread out over Malaysia's rugged Cameron Highlands harvests fruit, vegetables and flowers.

At first glance, the scene presents a picture of idyllic rural life in the hill station established during British colonial rule.

But the region's farmers are fighting for survival due to a worsening coronavirus outbreak that has decimated the vital tourism industry and caused labour shortages.

"I have been farming for 40 years and this pandemic is the worst crisis I have experienced," Cameron Highlands Vegetable Farmers' Organisation president Chai Kok Lim told Agence France-Presse.

The Cameron Bharat Plantation is facing problems typical of the region's agricultural sector.

Visitor numbers have dwindled to almost zero due to Covid-19 travel curbs, hammering revenues and forcing the plantation to close two shops for tourists.

Vegetable, fruit and flower farmers in the highlands also complain of falling demand, problems finding workers and the rising cost of materials such as fertiliser.

Mr Parveen Kumar Mohan grows chrysanthemums, which are commonly used in celebrations and religious ceremonies by Malaysia's sizeable ethnic Indian minority.

But he said he does not have enough workers to harvest the flowers.

Even if the crop was harvested, he would not be able to sell the flowers because there is no demand for them.

"Temples are closed and there are no tourists," he explained.

Mr Chai of the farmers' organisation said Malaysian consumers will ultimately be the ones impacted by the crisis.

"If (there are) insufficient workers, we grow fewer vegetables and consumers will have to pay higher prices."

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