Not only the name of the Cameron Highlands sounds very British, the entire development of the region is based on a very British habit: tea crops. Join me for tea time in this marvellous setting in Malaysia.
What’s in a name, wandered Romeo with despair; and there is actually a lot a name can tell about its owner, especially when it comes to places. The Cameron Highlands are named to William Cameron a British geologist who was hired by the British colonists to map the area by the end of the 19thCentury.
In order to escape the heath of the Malaysian mainland, the British went up in the hills, where they discovered this astonishing greenery. However, what they discovered was something totally different than what you will see nowadays.
Thanks to the cooler, but still pleasant climate, in combination with regular rainfall, the Cameron Highlands provide interesting agricultural conditions. Besides the wide variety of vegetables, from aubergine to beans, and fruits, especially strawberries, the landscape is totally dominated by tea crops. Tea time! How can it be more British?
Back to the Roots
So far, so good. Agriculture brings food on the table, direct and indirect, the region is nowadays more than a British escape of the heath. Thanks to its beauty, the Highlands started attracting many tourists to the region; creating additional income for the locals.
But every good comes with a bad, and eventually both sources of wealth – agriculture and tourism – are becoming unsustainable. The region is suffering because of the increased use, even abuse, of the land.
The rapid pace of the expansion of agricultural land undermined both the ecosystem and the social system. In order to create space, forests were converted in fields, which caused soil erosion. Moreover, since roots of trees are the most fundamental mean to keep the soil together, the absence of them loosened the soil.
Heavy rainfalls resulted more often in landslides than before. This becomes in particular very clear when I’m hiking through the highlands, following a path that goes half through the forest and half underneath the infrastructure of high voltage cables. The infrastructure is constructed in a deforested land strip, surrounded by forests, where the soil is kept together by roots of threes. The captured soil looks solid, while the soil underneath the cables is loosened and traces of heavy rainfall indicate how landslides could easily occur.
On the other hand, the expansion of tourism and farms has expropriated many local residents, by rising real-estate prices. Since the prices rise, it is for lots of people difficult to find other housing in the vicinity. This phenomenon of gentrification – where a neighbourhood is restored in value – often result in segregation – where people of the same economic or racial background are forced to live together while being distanced of the other parts of society – should not be underestimated, but it is unfortunately not an exclusive happening here in the Cameron Islands.
Stop the Train
The good news is that the Malaysian government does recognise the problem and created laws in order to stop the aggressive agricultural expansion. The awareness and legislation are the first steps to keep the development of the area sustainable; and as I will right about in the next post, the Malaysian government has some seriously interesting planning strategies in order to create a sustainable future of a growing country.
Let’s see how the future of the Cameron Highlands will develop; considering the plastic layers covering parts of the fields, the eroded areas prone to landslides, and the kilometres of traffic congestion on the roads taking loads of tourists up in the hills.
Eventually, the Cameron Highlands show how ecologic, economic and social interests have to be balanced in order to remain sustainable.
Which brings me back to the cities, in a next blogpost about Kuala Lumpur.