KUALA LUMPUR, August 3 — Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan has called upon the government to empower the rural community’s economic strength in light of the Covid-19 pandemic’s economic downturn.

The Umno veteran pointed out that Malaysia’s rural community is facing a lot of financial pressure as a result of the low demand for commodity products — which is the bread and butter for that outside of urban areas.

“The rural poverty rate is expected to increase drastically. With the new poverty index, rural poverty will multiply. This will create a huge gap when it comes to urban-rural poverty rates.

“Malaysia will have ‘the pear society’ instead of the ‘olive society’. This translates as more poverty among the lower-income groups. The ideal is actually for a stronger middle class,” said Mohamad.

He added that the government should come up with strategies focussing on rural development, including a radical change for Felda.

He proposed an incentive programme to develop Felda assets including support for agriculture and livestock, seeing that the livestock sector has strong potential to ensure that the country does not rely on imports to feed the nation.

Mohamad, also fondly known as Tok Mat, also proposed a specific strategy to ‘reenergise’ the fishing industry and pointed out the methods utilised by the Middle East nations.

Citing the Middle East’s lack of fertile soil, Mohamad said that they generally rely on seafood to sustain their nations and that Malaysia should take advantage of their weakness and focus on becoming their primary provider for food items.

“The skills of rural youths must be developed. They should not migrate to the urban areas under this terrible economic condition. They must be given the proper skillsets for the rural economy and raise the income levels in their districts.

“Malaysia’s rural locations must become the new development hub for the nation’s economy. While we focus on gig economy and network economy, we must remember that the traditional economy is also critical for the nation’s economy as a whole,” he said.