Rural revitalisation via innovation

The government must continually invest in enhancing rural infrastructure. PIC BY OMAR AHMADThe government must continually invest in enhancing rural infrastructure. PIC BY OMAR AHMAD

LETTERS: In Malaysia, rural residents make up 21.6 per cent of the population. Although the number is not that high, this population disproportionately faces poverty, malnutrition and low quality of life.

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

Rural revitalisation in this age should go beyond agriculture. Create non-farm markets while making technology and innovation the cornerstones of rural economic growth.

Many programmes under the Rural Development Ministry have been initiated to improve the wellbeing of rural communities, such as the support programme for rural entrepreneurship, Program Sokongan Pengukuhan Keusahawanan Luar Bandar, which is a platform that supports entrepreneurs with financial aid and service-related training and products.

While the initiatives seem to be bearing fruit, rural areas are still struggling with the lack of opportunities for rural folk, forcing many to migrate to cities in hope of a better future.

This leads to another issue — urbanisation that could cause other problems, like insufficient space for building new houses, traffic congestion and urban crime. Data shows that in 2017, nearly 75 per cent of the country’s population lived in cities, with more than seven million people living in Kuala Lumpur.

As the growth is projected to continue, the revitalisation of rural areas is much needed to prevent rural people from migrating so that they can explore the potential of rural areas and maximise the rural economy. So what can be done to revitalise rural areas?

First, the government must continually invest in enhancing rural infrastructure by improving the efficiency and availability of clean water, stable Internet, electricity supply, as well as access to small grocery stores that sell healthy and nutritious food at affordable prices.

Improving rural mobility is essential so that rural folk 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 investment in transport has been 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 rural areas, such as through mining, service industries and e-commerce, is vital in ramping up the rural economy.

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

For example, the Perkhidmatan eDagang Setempat (PeDAS) initiative, launched by the Communications and Multimedia Ministry together with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, helps local entrepreneurs market their products online.

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

The government may need to inject money into this programme, so necessary action could be taken, like expanding the number of one-stop centres, known as Pusat Internet Desa or Village Internet Centre, so that more people can get equal chance in grabbing this opportunity.

by Afifah Suhaimi.

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