Time for rural revitalisation

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.

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Published by Business Today, The Star, Focus Malaysia & New Straits Times, image from Business Today.

Promoting strategies and investments that support the revitalisation of the rural area is not only beneficial in creating a competitive and sustainable rural economy but also vital to the social viability of the nation.

In Malaysia, rural residents make up 21.6 percent of the nation’s population. Although the number is not that high, this population bears a disproportionate burden of poverty, malnutrition and 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 under the Ministry of Rural Development have been initiated for promoting 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 support local entrepreneurs with financial aids and provide them with service-related training and products.

While the initiatives taken seem to bear fruit, the rural areas are still struggling to provide a vast opportunity for the rural dwellers and consequently, this has forced most of them to migrate to the cities in hope for a better future there.

However, this would lead to another issue – what is known as urbanisation, that could cause other problems like insufficient space for building new houses, traffic congestion and urban crime.

Unbeknownst to many, Malaysia is currently one of the most urbanised countries of East Asia. In 2017 alone, Statista revealed that nearly 75 percent of the country’s population now lives in cities, with over seven million people living in Kuala Lumpur alone.

As the growth is projected to continue, the revitalisation of the rural area is much needed to persuade the rural people from migrating, so that they could explore the rural areas and maximise their potential to ramp up the rural economy.

Thus, what can be done to revitalise the rural area?

First, the government must continually invest in enhancing rural infrastructures by improving the efficiency and availability of its clean water, stable internet facilities, electrical power as well as access to the small rural grocery store that sells healthy and nutritious foods with affordable prices – which is often difficult to obtain.

In line with this effort, improving rural mobility is essential so they 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.

However, while transport investment has concentrated on upgrading infrastructure, it is essential to note that the government should also focus on enhancing the quality of public transport services.

Apart from that, generating other sources of income in the rural area such as mining, service industries and e-commerce is vital in ramping up rural economy.

With regards to e-commerce, since this sector is seen blooming amid the Covid-19 pandemic, this is the right time to undertake an extensive effort to assist the rural folks into venturing this industry. 

For example, the Perkhidmatan eDagang Setempat (PeDAS) launched by the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia, together with MDEC, is beneficial to help local entrepreneurs market their products online.

Practical strategies to rejuvenate this programme should be well-planned to further expand its functionality in helping the rural populations particularly women, youth and indigenous people to hone their skills in e-commerce.

To achieve this, the government might need to inject financial aids into this programme, so necessary actions could be proceeded – like expanding the number of its one-stop centres (known as Pusat Internet Desa or Village Internet Centre) so that more people can get equal chances in grabbing this opportunity.

With this programme, not only they could improve their livelihood, but also open the world’s eyes to recognise their skills and most importantly – to preserve their traditional and indigenous knowledge for the use of future generations.

Nurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi is Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

Bahasa Melayu

Diterbitkan oleh Berita Harian.

Mempromosikan strategi dan pelaburan yang menyokong pembaharuan kawasan luar bandar bukan sahaja bermanfaat dalam mewujudkan ekonomi desa kompetitif dan mampan, bahkan penting untuk daya maju sosial negara.

Di negara ini, penduduk luar bandar merangkumi 21.6 peratus daripada jumlah warga.

Walaupun jumlahnya tidak begitu tinggi, mereka menanggung beban kemiskinan, kekurangan zat makanan dan kualiti hidup tidak seimbang.

Pembaharuan desa pada zaman ini melampaui sektor pertanian kerana ia membabitkan kewujudan pasaran ‘bukan pertanian’, sekali gus menjadikan teknologi dan inovasi sebagai asas pertumbuhan ekonomi luar bandar.

Pelbagai program di bawah Kementerian Pembangunan Luar Bandar dilaksanakan untuk mempromosi kesejahteraan masyarakat luar bandar seperti program sokongan untuk keusahawanan desa (Program Sokongan Pengukuhan Keusahawanan Luar Bandar), iaitu platform menyokong pengusaha tempatan dengan pelbagai bentuk bantuan sama ada kewangan mahupun latihan keusahawanan.

Walaupun inisiatif nampak membuahkan hasil, peluang untuk penduduk luar bandar meningkatkan taraf hidup masih tipis.

Ini memaksa sebahagian besar berhijrah ke kota dengan harapan untuk menggapai masa depan lebih cerah.

Namun, ini akan menimbulkan masalah lain, iaitu urbanisasi yang boleh menyebabkan isu kekurangan ruang untuk membina rumah baharu bagi menampung peningkatan jumlah penduduk, kesesakan lalu lintas dan jenayah bandar.

Kini, Malaysia antara negara di Asia Timur yang paling banyak bandar. Pada 2017 sahaja, statistik mendedahkan hampir 75 peratus penduduk negara ini tinggal di bandar dengan lebih tujuh juta individu mendiami Kuala Lumpur sahaja.

Memandangkan pertumbuhan ini dijangka berterusan, usaha menggiatkan semula kawasan luar bandar amat diperlukan bagi mengelak penduduk desa berhijrah supaya mereka boleh meneroka kawasan luar bandar dan memaksimumkan potensi untuk menerokai ekonomi luar bandar.

Oleh itu, apa yang boleh dilakukan bagi membaharui atau membangunkan kawasan luar bandar?

Kerajaan perlu terus melabur dalam meningkatkan infrastruktur luar bandar dengan menambah kecekapan dan ketersediaan air bersih, kemudahan internet stabil, elektrik serta akses ke kedai runcit yang menjual makanan berkhasiat dengan harga berpatutan – yang sering sukar diperoleh.

Selaras dengan usaha ini, meningkatkan mobiliti luar bandar penting supaya mereka mudah mendapatkan keperluan harian, mengakses perkhidmatan seperti pendidikan, kesihatan dan kewangan, mencapai pasaran, memperoleh pendapatan serta mengambil bahagian dalam aktiviti sosial, politik dan masyarakat.

Namun, sementara pelaburan dalam sektor pengangkutan tertumpu kepada penambahbaikan infrastruktur, adalah penting kerajaan turut memberi tumpuan kepada peningkatan kualiti perkhidmatan pengangkutan awam.

Selain itu, menjana sumber pendapatan lain di kawasan luar bandar seperti perlombongan, industri perkhidmatan dan e-dagang sangat penting dalam meningkatkan ekonomi desa.

Berhubung e-dagang, sektor ini dilihat berkembang di tengah-tengah pandemik, sekali gus menjadi masa tepat untuk melakukan usaha ekstensif bagi membantu penduduk luar bandar menceburi industri ini.

Contohnya, Perkhidmatan eDagang Setempat (PeDAS) yang dilancarkan Kementerian Komunikasi dan Multimedia, bersama Perbadanan Ekonomi Digital Malaysia (MDEC), bermanfaat untuk membantu pengusaha tempatan memasarkan produk dalam talian.

Strategi praktikal untuk memperkasa program ini harus dirancang dengan teliti bagi memperluas fungsinya dalam membantu penduduk desa terutama wanita, belia dan Orang Asli untuk meningkatkan kemahiran mereka dalam e-dagang.

Untuk mencapai matlamat kerajaan mungkin perlu menyuntik bantuan kewangan ke dalam program berkenaan supaya tindakan sewajarnya dapat diteruskan seperti menambah pusat sehenti, pusat internet desa atau kampung internet supaya lebih ramai merebut peluang emas ini.

Program ini, bukan sahaja dapat meningkatkan taraf kehidupan, bahkan juga membuka mata dunia untuk mengenali kemahiran mereka dan paling penting untuk mengekalkan pengetahuan tradisional dan peribumi mereka untuk penggunaan generasi akan datang.

Nurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi merupakan Pembantu Penyelidik di EMIR Research, sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas yang berfokuskan kepada pencernaan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berteraskan penyelidikan yang terperinci, konsisten dan menyeluruh.

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