Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reinvigorating Rural Malaysia

New Paradigms Needed
There has been a remarkable change in the composition of Malaysia’s rural-urban mix. In the 1980s approximately 70 percent was considered rural, where today 72 percent are urbanized and with the change taking place at about 2.4 percent annually.

It is a change that is taking place all over Asia, from China to India to Indonesia and more. Very few countries outside China have even attempted to cope, with the result that the rural-urban divide has grown and with very little being done to directly alleviate problems of poverty and rustication.

In Malaysia, rural sector development has been debated little, even though the primary sector still represents almost 12 percent of GDP and employs more than 11 percent of the population. Many rural issues affect the future in much greater magnitude than the rural contribution to GDP and employment. The sustainability of Malaysia as an eco(n)-system, the country's cultural basis, and even political destiny are tied up with rural evolution, with the vote in the kampung remaining a potent fiction if nothing else

In the meantime, deterioration continues in what was once one of the world’s most lush environmental green lungs. Forest cover is decreasing on a daily basis. Conservation has lost out to greed and development. Palm oil, rubber plantations and urban expansion are eating into the forests, with very poor land enforcement on the ground. Well-connected businesses get concessions that are extremely financially lucrative, at great environmental cost. Roads and new townships have divided rural habitats, playing havoc with biodiversity.

The precise needs of rural societies are best obtained from inside those communities. A "bottom up" problem identification process would ensure development objectives and implementation scenarios would remain relevant. Community shura (consultation) committees could be set up at the village level to identify and discuss needs, problems, and desired solutions, and advise village heads.

Such a democratic approach to community would provide policymakers with the guidance they need in setting objectives and programs, and assist in minimizing funding leakages during implementation. This measure alone would signal a very strong redistribution of policy decision-making to the communities themselves, empowering communities to have more say in deciding their own future destinies. The shura system should develop new leaders and champions who are willing to lead and help shape a new community sense of wisdom. Policies will never succeed without people to drive them.

Self-sufficiency and a vibrant local trade economy are the keys to future rural communities. However, rural SMEs should be facilitated to enter national and international markets. There are now many compliance procedures such as Good Agricultural Practice (GAP), necessary for agricultural produce to enter international supply chains. These practices need to be introduced within rural communities so products produced are accepted in international markets.

These compliance processes can be locally enhanced to include halal (Islamic compliance) certification, thus widening the compliance process to one inclusive certification, which would greatly enhance the desirability of Malaysian produce, especially within the exponentially growing halal markets worldwide.

Whole sectors like rice paddy production need to be reconfigured from the bottom up so they can become competitive. The paddy production process requires the hands of a number of contractors during field preparation, planting, cultivation, harvesting, and processing stages. Paddy production is an uncompetitive sector.

New methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI) could be adopted, and more popular aromatic varieties of rice cultivated to increase industry viability. The rice monopoly held by the government regulator Bernas could be ended to allow new approaches to rice products and marketing by entrepreneurial individuals. Such an approach could drastically decrease production costs and add value to rice products, redistributing this added value back to farmers.

University and institutional research should change focus towards communities rather than using scare research funds to chase medals at exhibitions that have no research or commercial significance in places like Geneva and Seoul. The technology developed by Malaysian institutions should be simple, applicable to community enterprise, and appropriate to the size of the enterprises operating in rural areas.

This appropriate technology, if effective and viable is itself a source of competitive advantage that would enable rural enterprises to compete in the marketplace. Read more here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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