THE ancient Sungai Batu civilisation in Kedah was declared the oldest in Southeast Asia by archaeologists last year but it is a long way from making its mark on the tourist map.
The Belum Rainforest in Perak, which is far older than the Amazon and Congo rainforests, is a better bet as it has already gained a lot of international interest.
Both these places, which are categorised as heritage or historical tourism sites, are being marketed by their respective state tourism boards with limited funds.
But, Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA) chief executive Datuk Redza Rafiq has plans to promote these tourism sites, which contribute to the nation’s rich historical tapestry.
“They should not be overlooked as communities were living there a long time ago, as evidenced by the discovery of roof tiles and bricks dating back to 535 BC, and the remains of an ancient jetty.”
Redza said the best approach was to promote these sites jointly.
Agriculture and bio-industries, services (which includes tourism) and manufacturing are three key sectors which the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) is focused on in the four northern Peninsular Malaysia states of Perlis, Kedah, Penang and Perak.
Redza, who has helmed the NCIA for eight of the 10 years of its existence, said the region was in its third wave of growth, after having laid out infrastructure as an initial catalyst and getting the involvement of the private sector.
The results of the RM17.25 billion investment by the Federal Government are now being enjoyed by the investing, trading and local communities.
The private sector invested RM79.9 billion and created 103,597 jobs between 2009 and last year.
“Blueprint 2.0, the third wave, follows the 11th Malaysia Plan, Economic Transformation Programme, Government Transformation Programme and New Economic Model.
“It covers more than 80 strategic projects that will spearhead economic development across Kedah, Perlis, Perak and Penang by 2030,” he said.
The blueprint outlines future directions and strategies to expand growth and reduce regional imbalances. It introduces bold measures for the long-term benefit of all by sustaining growth momentum and ensuring that the rakyat continue to prosper.
There are seven Growth Node projects and two, the Greater Kamunting Conurbation (GKC) and Manjung-Aman Jaya Maritime City, are located in Perak.
There are also 28 transcending borders projects and 45 localised high impact projects under Blueprint 2.0.
The transcending borders projects will also see the development of the NCER Tourism Hub or NORTH to promote tourist attractions, such as Belum and Sungai Batu.
Farmers in Perlis and Kedah, who are aged 60 on average, need to be introduced to new technology so that they can get involved in bio-industries.
The production of superfoods and superfruits have already commenced. Perak specialises in halia Bentong, Penang in lemons, Kedah in figs and Perlis in figs, lemons and the uncommon but nutritional gac fruit.
The game changer for the farming community, in developing these high value crops, is the ability to work with the private sector and academia and capitalise on the unique strengths of NCER.
Being part of the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth
Triangle (IMT-GT) and Asean provides a lot of potential for
the region which already has a strong manufacturing ecosystem, top tourist destinations and modern agriculture.
“Apart from Kamunting, we have a centre of excellence in Chuping, Perlis, which provides an interface between the academic community, companies and the local community to prepare them in terms of what’s coming in
the ecosystem near them,” he said.
The COE provides support to green manufacturing, renewable energy and halal industries.
With Blueprint 2.0, which was launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently, there will be more employment opportunities, skill sets, higher incomes and inclusivity.
Redza and his team are busy holding roadshows to prepare the local communities.
In all these initiatives, Redza said he was intrigued by the seamless relationship between the universities, especially Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Malaysia Perlis, and the communities.
Sungai Chuchuh is one such success story about developing technology and attracting investors while community innovation centres are another.
“The famous stingless bee project is the result of USM input.”
Mustafa-Hive developed by Dr Mohd Zulkifli Mustafa of USM won the gold medal for the patent and farmers in Kubu Gajah in Kedah and Perak have been enjoying gains to the tune of RM48,000 annually as a side income.
“Likewise, there are hidden gems in the north. Take for instance the best padi estate in Seberang Prai Utara which has raised productivity by two metric tonnes per hectare. These are promising developments which can lead to self-sufficiency for the country.”