PROMOTING strategies and investments that support the revitalisation of Malaysia’s rural heartland will create a competitive and sustainable rural economy that is vital to the nation’s social viability.
In Malaysia, 21.6% of the nation’s population live in rural areas. Although the number might not seem that high, this population bears a disproportionate burden of poverty, malnutrition and a low quality of life.
Rural revitalisation in this age goes well beyond agriculture, as it involves creating non-farm markets while making technology and innovation the cornerstones of rural economic growth.
Many programmes have been initiated by the Rural Development Ministry to promote the well-being of rural communities, such as the support programme for strong rural entrepreneurship (Program Sokongan Pengukuhan Keusahawanan Luar Bandar), which is a platform that supports local entrepreneurs with financial aid and service-related training and products.
While the initiatives seem to be bearing fruit, rural areas are still struggling to provide opportunity for their residents and, consequently, this has forced most to migrate to the cities in search of a better future. This, then, leads to another issue: urbanisation, which causes problems like insufficient space for building new houses, traffic congestion and urban crime.
Unbeknown to many, Malaysia is currently one of the most urbanised countries in East Asia. German online statistics portal Statista revealed that in 2019,76.61% of Malaysia’s total population lived in urban areas and cities (bit.ly/
statista_urban), with almost eight million people in Kuala Lumpur alone (according to macrotrends.net at bit.ly/klpopulation).
As urban population growth is projected to continue, the revitalisation of rural areas is much needed to persuade rural people not to migrate to towns and cities and, instead, explore means of ramping up the rural economy around them.
So what can be done to revitalise Malaysia’s rural areas?
First, the government must continually invest in enhancing rural infrastructure: improve the distribution efficiency and availability of potable water, stable Internet facilities and electricity as well as access to small grocery stores that sell healthy and nutritious food at affordable prices – this last is often difficult to obtain outside towns and cities.
In line with this effort, improving rural mobility is essential so people can easily obtain their daily needs; access services like education, health and finance; reach markets; gain income; and participate in social, political and community activities. While transport investment has concentrated on upgrading infrastructure, it is essential that the government should also focus on enhancing the quality of public transport services.
Apart from that, generating other sources of income in rural areas – such as mining, service industries and e-commerce – is vital in ramping up the rural economy.
E-commerce, especially, has been blooming amidst Covid-19 as more people become accustomed to doing things online because of the pandemic-triggered movement control order. This, then, is the right time to undertake an extensive effort to assist rural folk to venture onto the World Wide Web. For example, the Communications and Multimedia Ministry and the Malaysian Digital Economy Corp’s Perkhidmatan eDagang Setempat can help local entrepreneurs market products online.
Practical strategies to rejuvenate this programme should be well planned to further expand its functionality in helping the rural populace – particularly women, youth and indigenous people – to hone their e-commerce skills. To achieve this, the government could inject more financial aid and, for example, expand the number of one-stop Village Internet Centres to allow more people to access this opportunity.
With programmes like this, not only can Malaysia’s rural populace improve their livelihood but they can also demonstrate their skills in the world’s eyes and – most importantly – preserve their traditional and indigenous knowledge for the use of future generations.
Research Assistant, Emir Research
Note: Emir Research is an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations.
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