KUCHING: The state’s rural areas must be transformed in order to retain its people and thus, reduce the rural-urban drift.
Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said the state must find new ways to increase the income and wealth of its rural populace, and also improve their quality of life.
“The rural economy is not just about agriculture. There must also exist industries, digital economy and services industry.
“This is due to the revolution brought about by technology, which allows information and communications to be done across vast distances in split second,” he said when debating the Head of State’s speech in connection with the State Legislative Assembly’s 150th anniversary here yesterday.
He said this was the reason why he emphasised that telecommunications must be made available in even the remotest of communities in Sarawak.
“This is our challenge to all those talents in the digital economy to come up with solutions for remote Sarawak, at reasonable cost.”
Abang Johari said while the state currently has several strategic initiatives for rural economy such as Rural Growth Centres, resettlement schemes, ‘Rimbunan Kasih’, poverty eradication programmes, Rural Transformation Centre, rural ICT training, ‘agropolitan’ and native customary rights (NCR) land development, the state government might have to re-strategise these initiatives in light of the new opportunities presented by the digital economy.
“In developing the rural areas, we are modernising and commercialising the agriculture sector with greater private sector participation and digital technology applications.”
These include the application of ‘Internet of Things’ for smart farming, collection, processing and packaging centres and e-commerce for marketing the state’s agriculture produce.
Abang Johari also touched on the state’s substantial water resources, which could be used to create new economic opportunities.
“Our Bakun and Murum HEP (hydroelectricity power) dams are attracting industries to Samalaju and also revitalising rural communities which otherwise, would have been left to their own traditional ways of doing things.
“In time to come, the Baleh HEP dam will come on-stream to trigger new industries such as server farms and data farms as well as the injection of new vitality to the communities in Kapit.”
Abang Johari said these hydro-dams are economic resources that contribute to tourism, recreation, aquaculture, community development and conservation.
“With our four HEP dams namely Batang Ai, Bakun, Murum and later Baleh, we can create an integrated water supply system. The state water grid system is currently being studied for its feasibility.
“This grid system can supply clean water to villages and longhouses in the rural areas and for agriculture development purposes,” the chief minister said, adding that water from the dams could also be used to produce hydrogen fuel cell that could be utilised to power the state’s public transport system in the near future.