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7.The Jengka Triangle: a report on research in progress

Evaluating the Jengka Triangle experience
The urban subsystem in the Jengka area
Preliminary observations
The second-generation "problem"

Tunku Shamsul Bahrin, Lee Boon Thong, and Richard F. Dorall

The Jengka Triangle Regional Land Settlement Project of Malaysia's Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) is located in the east coast state of Pahang in Peninsular Malaysia, some 120 miles north-east of Kuala Lumpur. The project takes its name from its distinctive triangular shape, being located within the single strand road system connecting the three towns Jerantut, Temerloh/Mentakab, and Maran (fig. 1).

Today, this oldest larger-scale regional land settlement scheme in Malaysia is further served by a regional corporation established by FELDA known as Lembaga Perbadanan Jengka (Jengka Development Corporation), which was incorporated in 1971 by an enabling law passed by the Pahang State Legislature. The enactment allows the corporation to undertake the development of social facilities in the Jengka area, that is, planning the establishment and development of the scheme's three regional towns; coordinating all activities of public and private agencies operating within the project region; and developing the physical and social infrastructure and amenities for the region, most especially in the proposed towns (J. bin Mat 1983, 135). Agricultural development activities and other activities relating directly to the settlers within the component FELDA schemes in the Jengka Triangle continue to be undertaken by FELDA itself.

The Jengka Triangle is Malaysia's first regional development project, the planning of which was undertaken by a team of foreign consultants, Tippets, Abbett, McCarthy, and Stratton Engineers and Architects of Park Avenue, New York, and Hunting Technical Services Ltd. of England. Undertaking studies between July 1965 and December 1966, the consultants submitted to the Malaysian Government in January 1967 their report for the systematic development of a network of land settlement schemes within the Triangle based on the concept of regional integration and the development of a hitherto forested regional resource frontier.

FIG. 1. The Jengka Triangle

The project, covering a total of 60,000 ha and originally estimated to cost some M $350 million, planned to settle over a twelve-year period 85,000 people in agricultural schemes and generate employment in three proposed regional towns for an additional 20,000 persons (Federal Land Development Authority 1967). The consultants envisaged that the project would be fully operational by 1985 and that it would have a profound effect on the local, state, and national economies.

Fully convinced by the logic and perceived advantages of regional-level planning, other even larger regional land development projects were quickly announced by FELDA.

In 1971 the Johore Tenggara Regional Master Plan, covering 280,000 ha in central and south-east Johore State, was put forward, and in 1972 the Pahang Tenggara Master Plan was announced, with its objective of settling over 20 years some 800,000 people on 1 million ha of land in the vast hinterland of that state, immediately south of the Jengka Triangle.

The Third Malaysia Plan (1976-1980) reaffirmed this commitment to vast regional land development schemes, and it defined their relationship to national development in these words: "In the light of the unequal distribution of natural resources and population, selective relocation of people to areas where development opportunities and potentials exist will be a necessary element in the strategy of regional development." And such regional development was defined as the ''haste[ned]. . . development of resources in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak," which would involve the "settlement of resource-rich virgin-lands" and the encouragement of "outflows of labour from congested areas to other areas with under-developed resources." The Plan concluded: "In the final analysis, the regional development strategy seeks to ensure that the nation makes optimal use of its resources for the advancement of all Malaysians" (Government of Malaysia 1976, 199)

Evaluating the Jengka Triangle experience

In the light of the fact that the Jengka Triangle is Malaysia's oldest regional land settlement scheme and that 1985 is the year set by the project's planners for its "completion," and bearing in mind that regional planning on a much larger scale than the Jengka Triangle has become widely accepted in Malaysia in the flush of the enthusiasm that followed the "discovery" by Malaysian politicians and planners, upon the publication of the Jengka Triangle Report in 1967, of the many "advantages" of large-scale regional planning and development, the authors of this report believe that it is timely to take a second look at the Jengka Triangle experience with the purpose of eventually making an overall critical evaluation of the use of this type of regional development strategy in Malaysia.

With this in mind we studied aspects of the Jengka Triangle development experience to see what lessons can be learnt so that corrective measures may be proposed for current and future regional-level rural settlement projects. In this the authors recognize the necessary limitations of their enterprise. A thorough evaluation of every facet of the Jengka Triangle experience will require resources, and a range of expertise, well beyond what the authors will ever be able to muster. This has, therefore, necessarily dictated that our evaluation be limited in scope, tentative in nature, and but a pointer to areas that need to be looked at in greater depth.

A pilot survey conducted in March 1984 on the planned urban service centres of the Triangle, and their comparison with spontaneous marketing and service centres that have sprung up on the fringes of the Triangle, pointed immediately to one possible major "failure" of the project in the key area of regional growth centres and urban development.

Likewise, in the course of interviewing settlers in the component land settlement schemes within the Triangle, answers given indicated that the children of settlers- the second generation-and the expressed aspirations of parents for their children revealed an upward social and spatial mobility that had profound implications for the announced original purpose of FELDA settlement projects of ensuring the establishment of a landowning rural population which, through its commercial, economic activities, would support and complement parallel commercial, industrial, and service developments in the major urban centres.

These two issues, then, became the focus of attention of fieldwork undertaken in September 1984 and March 1985 in the Triangle. What follows are some preliminary findings from these surveys.

The urban subsystem in the Jengka area

The large population settled in the Jengka Triangle generates a need for specialized administrative, medical, educational, commercial, and industrial services. As these are largely central functions, they need to be located in urban centres. Although there are towns of 5,000 to 6,000 population, each in the corners of the Triangle, they are deemed to lack centrality. For instance, Maran is 26 km away from the geographical centre of the Triangle; Jerantut, 35 km; Temerloh, 29 km; and Kuala Kurau, 22 km. Three new towns have been proposed in the plans for the Triangle, of which only one, the regional centre of Bandar Pusat (Malay for "central town"), is currently being developed. Besides these, there is also a service node in each scheme comprising the FELDA Corporation store and a small number of shops operated by the settlers or their kin. In this frontier area the marked lack of small service centres has encouraged the spontaneous growth of service centres such as Sungai Jerik or Tongkiat on the boundary of the Triangle.


One of our main objectives is to study the role of service centres and of Bandar Pusat, a completely new town, in urbanizing the region, in improving the socio economic standing of the settlement schemes, and in stemming rurvis--visal-urban migration in Peninsular Malaysia.

Bandar Pusat is highlighted for study in two respects: (1) the relationship between Bandar Pusat and the other main urban centres of Maran,Tongkiat, Jerantut, Temerloh, Mentakab, which are located outside the Triangle, and smaller centres within the Triangle in terms of provision of urban facilities; and (2) the sphere of influence of Bandar Pusat vis--vis the other major towns of the region, the intent here being to point out the interlinking relationship between the towns to explain the very slow rate of development of Bandar Pusat.


To investigate the above, several questionnaires were utilized. The first pertained to shopping patterns of the settlers in terms of their actual places of purchase of a wide range of convenience and other goods, their preferred place of purchase of food and durable items, and the reasons for their shopping behaviour. A second set of questionnaires related to the trade patterns found within the settlement schemes-in terms of the number of shop types and the nature of any trade dominance, that is, whether there are large urban centres that are actually controlling or dominating the trading patterns to which the settlers subscribe.

The implications arising from the analysis of the questionnaires pertinent to the major concern of ensuring that earnings generated within the schemes are, as much as possible, retained there, as well as to policies concerned with upgrading the various functions to be played by the regional centre of Bandar Pusat in the socioeconomic development of the agricultural area, especially in terms of providing urban employment opportunities for the children of the settlers. The nonfigurative maps of proximates from the exercise on spheres of influence would, in particular, lead to policy measures necessary to arrest the continual outflow of local savings and disposable incomes and to break the dependence upon the external towns.

Questionnaires were administered in 10 schemes located in the northern half of the Jengka Triangle as well as in the main towns at the corners of the Triangle. The intent is to cover the remainder of the schemes later. Determination of the spheres of influence involves a count of the total number and variety of services provided by the shops in centres within the Jengka area as well as by those in the extra-Jengka towns. An additional questionnaire for shoppers relating to their places of origin was administered. The survey data are currently being analysed and the intent here is to report some preliminary findings only.

Preliminary observations

Trading Patterns

The average number of shops in the schemes surveyed is 13 per scheme. The most common type of shop found is the traditional sundry shop selling the basic necessities such as rice, sugar, dried and canned foodstuffs, and other non-perishable food products. Next in importance comes the ubiquitous kedai kopi (coffee shops) offering noodles, soft drinks, and various types of locally made kuih-muih (cakes). The coffee shops and the sundry shops comprised 86 per cent of the total number of shops surveyed. The other commercial outlets comprised motor repair shops, electrical appliance stores, hardware shops, bookshops, general merchandise stores, and market stalls (selling fresh food supplies such as meat, fish, and vegetables).

Information regarding sources of supply for these trade activities revealed that the major catchment area lies just on the fringe of the Jengka Triangle, that is, in the bigger, long established urban centres of Temerloh, Jerantut, Mentakab, Tongkiat, and Maran. Temerloh and Jerantut both contributed about 45 per cent of the total supply requirements of the shops in the 10 schemes. About a third of the shops obtained their supplies from farther afield, in the other states of the country. What is interesting is that only about 13 per cent derived their supplies from within the Triangle.

The majority of the shops (79 per cent) reported only "average" earnings and the average length of business operation is only four years, yet the shop owners are travelling long distances to get their supplies (average 69 km). Ideally, there ought to be a trade subordination to Bandar Pusat, but this is not the case. This calls for investigation of the factors of trade dominance from outside the Jengka area.

About 63 per cent of the shop owners feel that Bandar Pusat is not ideal for business operations, for reasons such as the delay in the development of the town, the high rentals, etc.; it appears that Bandar Pusat does not possess much attraction for fulfilling its retailing functions.

Several reasons may be offered to explain the pattern of trade dominance. l he cheapest sources of supplies are Tongkiat, Temerloh, and Mentakab, in that order. On the other hand, the most expensive source is Bandar Pusat. In terms of variety, the widest selections come from Temerloh, Mentakab, and Jerantut, whereas the least choice is, again, in Bandar Pusat. Moreover, the fringe towns scored highest in terms of service and personal attention, which are often crucial factors.

Consumer Behaviour

In terms of where the settlers preferred to shop for specific items, the frequency of mention of Jerantut and Tongkiat for items such as clothing, electrical appliances, furniture, and motorcycles reveals quite clearly that the urban structure within the Jengka region is as yet unable to provide the basic retailing functions for its rural population.

With respect to Bandar Pusat as the planned new town to provide service and retailing functions, it appears that it is severely lacking in this role. More than three-quarters of the respondents living in two schemes less than 10 minutes travelling time from Bandar Pusat do not patronize Bandar Pusat for either their daily necessities or for goods such as furniture, electrical appliances, and clothing. In fact, about 51 per cent in the survey indicated that they patronize the new town only once a month or less. Only 15 per cent were positively satisfied with the facilities and amenities provided by Bandar Pusat.

Spheres of Influence

From preliminary findings, it appears that Temerloh has the largest number of commercial outlets and service functions (254 shops), followed by Jerantut, Tongkiat, Maran, Kuala Kurau, Bandar Pusat, and Simpang Jengka. Generally, food and service shops (car-repair, coffee shops, etc.) are most common in all the centres. Data from sampled residents in the fringe towns of Jengka indicate a strong linkage with the two uppermost hierarchical towns of Temerloh and Jerantut. Whilst analysis of data from the agricultural service centres within Jengka is still being processed, it is beyond doubt that there is not only an urban-urban dominance, but also an urban-people dominance. That is, the agricultural settlers are gripped within the ambits of these two large centres. Tentative spatial configurations indicate that the entire Jengka area is covered by the spheres of Jerantut, Maran, and Temerloh. The implications are that there will be a continual outflow of savings and disposable incomes from the region and that the potential growth of Bandar Pusat and other smaller centres will be severely constricted as they will be perpetually overshadowed by the "big three," thus reducing opportunities for employment for the growing population. Aspects in need of further research include the study of possible intervening opportunities that can be restituted to meet the growing basic and material demands of the settlers. A suggestion that sociopsychological factors may also exist to explain the existing structure also needs to be investigated.

The second-generation "problem"

In an evaluation of FELDA co-authored by the senior author of this paper and published in 1977 on the occasion of the twenty-first anniversary of the Authority, the following early warning of a future second-generation "problem" was sounded:

It has often been said in another context that resettlement can play only a temporary role in combating rural-urban migration. After a generation or two, these same settlers would themselves experience "overcrowding" unless adequate measures are taken. The traditional argument to support the above assumption is quite well known i.e. as population increases sub-division of holdings, which consequently lead to reduced family incomes, will force them to search for better places of earning a living. In FELDA schemes, the units of holding will remain unaffected because of the conditions attached to the land grants whereby the lots cannot be subdivided. Technically, only one member of the family would inherit the holding thus necessitating the others to eke out a living elsewhere. Under such circumstances, it would be logical to infer that the majority of the second and third generation scheme population would have to leave the scheme. In order to discourage the migration of these people to the existing urban centres, steps should be taken to provide them with adequate employment facilities. Early action to establish agro-based industries in the schemes or its immediate environs would be necessary. In those schemes such as Jengka . . . a more elaborate system has to be created because the number of people would be very large. Urban-based industries and activities should be part and parcel of land development planning under these circumstances (Bahrin and Perera 1977, 155) (emphasis added).

In the preliminary study of the urban subsystem of Jengka reported above, the collected data show that it is in the urban sector that the Jengka project has been found wanting. Consumer attention is focused on spontaneous and long-established urban service centres outside the project area, and this has been a major factor in explaining why the urban development strategy of the Jengka project has been a relative "failure" when compared with reported "successes" in the settlement and agricultural dimensions of the project.

This failure in the development of the urban sector within Jengka draws into sharp focus the "problem" of the second generation of the schemes' population. What is the future of the very large numbers of children of settlers who, not being allowed to fragment the property of their parents, will necessarily have to make their lives elsewhere? Will these children, born and raised in the nation's agricultural frontier, move on to the other vast frontier land development schemes announced in the decade of the 1970s? Or will they flow into the towns, and thereby aggravate the already existing urban problems of overcrowding, squatting, and unemployment?

In order to assess the urgency of having to ask and provide answers to questions such as these, it was decided to examine, by way of questionnaires, the attitudes, responses, and aspirations of a sample of the children of settlers. And comparative data on this issue was also collected from their parents. The randomly selected house surveys were conducted in Jengka oil palm and rubber schemes of varying ages. And all the final year high school students in three representative schools were asked about their perceptions of life in the Jengka Triangle and their future plans.

The findings reported below are from the questionnaire survey of the high school students which was conducted in March 1985.

Perception of Life in the Jengka Triangle

A total of 81 per cent of high school respondents reported that they were satisfied with their lives in the Jengka Triangle, compared with only 14.5 per cent who were dissatisfied, citing in particular a "lack of amenities" as a reason for their dissatisfaction. The majority who were "satisfied" frequently compared their present lives to what they remembered them to be in their home villages.

Ordinarily, such a high proportion of favourable answers could be interpreted as a measure of the "success" of a project, but the responses to other questions indicate that the "forward" comparison of present life with that which is desired to be attained in the future raises serious doubts as to whether the Jengka scheme is in any way perceived to be capable of meeting these future expectations.

Staying or Leaving?

The high proportion expressing "satisfaction" with their present lives is, however, immediately put into proper perspective by the response of 82.6 per cent who confessed to plans to leave the Jengka scheme upon completion of their schooling. Only 13 per cent reported their intention to remain. The fact that 15.2 per cent of the female respondents, compared with 11.1 per cent of the male respondents, indicated plans to stay suggests that the female second generation propensity to migrate to other places to make a life there is only marginally less than that of their male counterparts.

This finding throws into sharp relief the vast number of second generation settlers who, if given the opportunity, intend to move out of the region. The planners' goal of spatial stability within the region which would develop the inner dynamism of generating economic opportunities, especially commercial and industrial ones, stands in severe jeopardy in the face of such overwhelming responses.

Job Preferences

None (0%) of the students interviewed, when asked whether they wanted to become FELDA settlers like their parents, answered in the affirmative! And only 2.3 per cent wanted to work as FELDA employees. Government employment (29.4%), higher education leading to professional jobs (42.1%), and teaching (13.6%) were the most common answers given when the students were asked to indicate what they hoped to do after graduating. All these preferences require that they leave the Jengka Triangle for further training and employment, their being posted back to Jengka being the only way they would return to the Triangle to serve in their new capacities.

Only 7.9 per cent of the respondents (13.2% of the male respondents) indicated an interest in entering the commercial sector. This low figure, and the lack of interest in "technical" employment in preference for white collar government and professional work, does not auger well for plans to attract the second and subsequent generations of the Jengka population into the processing and commercial sectors of the regional economy.

Locational Preferences

When asked in which state or town they would like to live in after graduating from high school, nearly 67 per cent indicated their choice as Selangor and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, about 10 per cent Perak, and 7 per cent Penang, followed by 6 per cent opting for Johore. These are the most urbanized states in Peninsular Malaysia and the location of its major urban centres: Kuala Lumpur, the Klang valley; Ipoh; Georgetown; and Johor Baru. It is here where institutions of higher learning are concentrated and so too the headquarters of the major commercial, industrial, and administrative institutions of Peninsular Malaysia.

A marked bias for the major urbanized regions of Peninsular Malaysia is thus indicated, paralleling the job preferences analysed above, which showed an overwhelming preference for urban-based jobs in government and in the professions. It would seem, therefore, that the education system installed in the Triangle has given priority to academic education, when the original consultants' report called for a greater balance, with at least four types of schools: academic, technical, agricultural, and trade. They had even proposed that "agricultural training" be included in the syllabus of the "academic" schools.

Our perception of the education system extant in the Jengka Triangle is that in its structure, quest for excellence, and methods it is no different from that of other schools in urban Peninsular Malaysia and that this is a major factor in explaining the urban bias revealed in our study of Jengka's second generation.

Reasons for Wanting to Leave the Jengka Triangle

The major reason given for wanting to leave the Triangle was "to seek higher education" (36.6%), "employment" (21.8%), "new opportunities" (11.4%), and "new experiences" (21%).

Higher education and employment are self-explanatory, indeed understandable given the major thrust of education and the failure of Jengka to generate offsettlementscheme opportunities in sufficiently large numbers for the second generation. The recurrent quest for "new experiences" reflects a perception of Jengka that is probably worth exploring further. One respondent wrote the following, which summarizes this sentiment: "I want to renew my life which has long been restricted to interior districts, and my experiences will be broadened by the challenges of city life."

Other respondents complained about being "bored," about wanting to be "independent," or revealed a nostalgia for their home villages, where their relatives are. The recurrent overwhelming impression given in their answers is that the second generation does not have anything remotely like the rural pioneering spirit of their parents-a spirit that transformed the Jengka Triangle from a jungle vastness within a few short years into a network of settlements based on plantation-type production. Instead, they apparently want to be pioneers in the new Malaysian frontier: the cities.


This first presentation of some of the findings of our ongoing research into the critical aspects of the Jengka Triangle project has pointed to apparent failures that are likely to have profound implications for Malaysia's regional and overall national development strategies.

Numerous other studies have highlighted the "success story" of FELDA and its regional corporations in pioneering the transformation of hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin forests into land settlement schemes which have given tens of thousands of landless families rights to land and a secure economic life they did not enjoy before. However, when one looks beyond the dazzle of this "success story" to the long term implications, and when one examines the plans from the point of view of the desire to make these schemes, for which such vast sums of money have been invested, into systems-economic, spatical, and social-that are selfpropagating, one finds that there is much to be very concerned about.

As a pioneer of a new urban and "self-sustaining" system which will be able to accommodate subsequent generations of its regional population, the Jengka Triangle, our preliminary findings seem to suggest, is a failure. The immediate prospect is that the Jengka Triangle will export thousands of youth to the major urban centres of Peninsular Malaysia in search of higher education and the "new" life. And when the other major regional land development schemes which dwarf the Jengka in size and population, and which are based on the same developmental principles as the Jengka, reach maturation we may likewise expect vast numbers of second generation youths to follow the urbanward routes pioneered by their Jengka predecessors.

Our study, therefore, seeks to obtain empirical data in representative number such that we may begin to re-examine some of the fundamental bases upon which regional land development schemes have hitherto been built, with the view of proposing measures to make regional land development schemes, such as Jengka, more truly self-sustaining so that they may begin to provide answers to the challenges posed by the second, and subsequent, generations.


Bahrin, T. S., and P. D. A. Perera. 1977. FELDA: 21 years of land development. Federal
Land Development Authority, Kuala Lumpur.

Federal Land Development Authority, Malaysia. 1967. The Jengka Triangle report. Tippetts, Abbett, McCarthy, and Stratton, Hunting Technical Services, Ltd., Kuala Lumpur. Government of Malaysia. 1976. Third Malaysia Plan, 1976-1980. Government Press, Kuala Lumpur.

Johari bin Mat. 1983. Regional development in West Malaysia: A comparative effectiveness study of Jengka, Dara, Kejora, and Ketengah, monograph no. 2. National Institute of Public Administration, Kuala Lumpur.

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