Denzil Peiris

Although he has a cassava plot for his own consumption he has to buy his rice, salt cooking oil, fish - mostly salted and costing about 50 cents for a family meal each day.

Schooling is free, but Awang spends about $6 a month on his children's travelling expenses. The children need school uniforms, and the whole family clothes.

Most of Awang's money is spent on rice. Baling is located in a region which does not get rice at the subsidised price of between 45 and 47 cents.

For two rice meals a day, Awang's family needs 4 lbs at 67 cents a catty ( 1 .3 lbs). To live at a minimum level of comfort, the smallholder would need $3 a day. To live just above the subsistence level; Awang needs $ 1.50 daily.

He is one of 545,000 smallholders all over Peninsular Malaysia (without Sarawak and Sabah), whose families make up 3 million of Peninsular Malaysia's 9.77 million population.

They are one of the cornerstones on which Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak and his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) have built their pyramid of power.

According to the Treasury's Economic Report for 1974-75, of these smallholders growing various crops, about 48% have less than 3-5 acres of land each, about 20% from 3-5 acres and another 20% from 5-10 acres.

The remaining 12% hold anything from 1099 acres. To glean a modestly adequate subsistence from the land, a man needs at least 6 acres, some official sourees say. Some of the rubber smallholders have set apart one acre of land for rice.

About 25% of the total smallholders do not own their land, and either pay a fixed rent or share their crops with the landowner. Awang is one of the lucky ones; he owns his land.

But what Awang and other smallholders in Baling (and elsewhere) cannot understand is why the price of rubber alone should have dropped when the prices of all other essential commodities have increased.

The Treasury Report acknQwledges that consumer prices "have galloped to an arinual rate of about 18% after a rise of 10.5% last year."

In March it had reached the high annual rate of 24% and had fallen thereafter, according to the Treasury, but other sources say consumer prices rose 22% in November and that the prices of some items had risen by between 50%-200%.

In October the sharpest increases were in food. Compared with August 1973, food prices were up by 24.3%. Awang had heard of some tenant families in smallholdings who were forced to eat yams and other low-quality foods instead of rice.