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Published by: Andrew Speedy on Mar 20, 2011
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Rural Development in Malaysia
Assoc Prof Dr Ibrahim Ngah,Department of Urban and Regional Planning,Faculty of Built of Environment,Universiti Teknologi Malaysia,81310 SkudaiJohorINTRODUCTION
Since Malaysia became independent from British rule in 1957, rural development hasalways been considered important in the agenda of national development. Manystrategies and programmes were introduced to promote the well-being of rural peopleranging from development of the agriculture sector, rural industrialisation, resettlementschemes, provision of public facilities and infrastructure to human and communitydevelopment. Rural development can be seen as a process of change carried outdeliberately for the betterment of rural people. The process of change is continuous, andits essentially interventionist aims are to achieve certain goals or to solve problems of therural areas. As a process of induced change led by the state, rural development activitiescovered elements such as planning, implementation, monitoring and involved multi-disciplinary actors, such as state agencies, the private sector, NGOs and the generalpublic. Due to the nature of rural development activities with overriding stateinterventions, rural development in Malaysia tended to be viewed as synonymous withthe state rural development strategies and programmes aimed at solving problems facing
Paper published in Malaysia’s Economy, Past, Present & Future, Ch. 2, ed. Ishak Yussof (2009), KualaLumpur: Malaysian Strategic Research Centre.
2rural sectors such as poverty, low productivity, low income, lack of proper and adequaterural infrastructures and the rural-urban disparity that existed prior to independence.During the decades after independence, much effort and many resources were spent toimprove the well-being of rural people ranging from development of infrastructure andfacilities, modernisation of rural sectors through the use of modern techniques of production, agriculture support services, integrated area development and institutionaldevelopment. An assessment of the success and shortfall of implementation andoutcomes has been widely discussed and debated by researchers and practitioners in thefield. The discourses on rural development tended to fall within the theoreticalframework of development economics, focusing on the dichotomy betweenmodernisation theory and technocratic approach on one hand and reformist and politicaleconomy on the other. The approach to rural development appeared to be problemoriented and focused on the basic needs of the poor sections of the community. Theextent of rural development in the future is expected to look into the potential andstrength of our rich rural heritage and to venture into the future guided by rural vision.This chapter will provide an overview of rural development activities in Malaysia sinceindependence; it will examine the progress achieved by looking into some socialeconomic development indicators of rural areas and highlight the issues and challengesfacing rural development in achieving Vision 2020. The last part presents somesuggestions about possible future directions and new dimensions of rural development.
Towards the end of British colonialism, the Malaysian economy (Malaya, Sabah andSarawak) consisted of a modern sector, largely owned and controlled by foreign andChinese capitals on one hand, and on the other, traditional sectors engaged by small scalefarmers and other indigenous people. The modern sector was characterised by highcapital investment, market-oriented, high technology and high productivity, whichincluded plantation, production of timber, mining and a mercantile economy. People whowere engaged in the modern sector such as the owners and salaried workers were betteroff, not only due to the relatively higher income received but also were more secure interms of cash flow and access to a better standard of living and quality of life. Thetraditional sector, such as fishing, cultivation of rice, coconut and other food crops werecharacterised by low productivity, low technology, and small-scale. This traditionaleconomy of poverty and chronic deprivation, as termed by Silcock (1963), was generallyneglected during British rule. The policy of the colonial authorities was rather toencourage peasants to continue cultivating rice and to discourage them from leaving theirland or from changing to other crops because of concerns for food security and thebalance of payments. Since rice cultivation was unprofitable, the Malay peasants whocontinued living on rice were kept poor.

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