By Karen Bong
KUCHING, Oct 13: If urbanisation is important for faster economic growth in Sarawak, then rural development is equally important for sustainability and longevity of its economy.
In highlighting this, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said urban development could not be achieved without overcoming developmental disparities and ensuring integrated development in both urban and rural areas.
“For this to happen, we need the fruits of economic growth to cross urban boundaries and reach all nooks and corners of the economy,” he said at Sarawak Business Federation’s (SBF) 2nd anniversary gala dinner at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) on Friday evening.
His text-of-speech was read out by Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing.
SBF president Datuk Abang Abdul Karim Tun Openg and organising chairman Jonathan Chai were among those present.
The business community at large, Abang Johari emphasised, thus need to realise that there was a symbiotic relationship between the rural and urban economies.
“There is a need to balance and harmonise the supply and demand factors between the rural and urban centres. In order to do that, we have to decrease the vast disparity in the growth rates experienced in urban and rural areas,” he said.
Abang Johari stressed that it was only with development that the rural areas could have the required education and technical skills to support urban industries.
“Likewise, rural economies can experience growth by leveraging on the growing demand for food in urban areas. This will allow for diversification of food systems and generation of new economic opportunities in farms, off-farm and agriculture-related activities,” he elaborated.
The growth of agricultural activities in rural areas, he added, would not only ensure the demand for raw materials and others items required by modern industries in the cities is met but could easily spill over to other industries and businesses, thus creating more opportunities.
Supportive public policies and investments, he pointed out, were keys that allow Sarawak to harness urban demand as an engine for transformative and equitable growth.
The measures include ensuring the participation of small-scale rural farmers in meeting urban food and resources demands, strengthening land rights, improving access to credits and building up the necessary infrastructure to connect rural areas and urban markets.
However, Abang Johari noted that the lack of basic infrastructure and facilities, from road and electricity supply to storage and refrigerated transportation system, were barriers for rural communities in seeking to take advantage of urban demands for fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and other produce.
These challenges also impeded the shift of industrial development, which has reach almost choking levels in large metropolitan cities and industrial hubs, to smaller places.
“But cost-effectiveness is an attractive proposition that will benefit industries if their facilities are shifted to smaller cities having better connectivity, power and manpower supply,” he said.
“This will help urbanise large rural areas, generate much-needed jobs and provide economic opportunities without forcing migration or excluding those who are not able to migrate. The gap between urban and rural areas needs to be filled,” he added.
Abang Johari, thus, urged SBF to look into ways to further develop and transform Sarawak into a sustainable and resilient economy.
At the gathering, two Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) being inked between SBF and Davao Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines as well as between Sarawak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MICCI). — DayakDaily