MIRI: The Regional Corridor Development Authority (RECODA) has kick-started a five-year socio-economic development plan to identify and unleash the economic growth potentials of the Upper Baram and highland region.

The state statutory body today launched the Highland Development Agency (HDA) Socio-Economic Lab in Miri, which held in-depth discussions among 140 participants, including local elected representatives, community leaders, government officers and stakeholders.

The lab will gather baseline data for the HDA Socio-Economic Development Plan (2022-2026), involving an overall analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the socio-economic landscape of the region.

The lab is important as it will set the long-term direction of the highland region overseen by HDA, which has been allocated with RM1.5 billion by the Sarawak Government to implement 52 infrastructure projects, said Deputy Premier and HDA Chairman Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.

“While HDA’s immediate focus is to plan and implement infrastructure and basic amenities development, we have not forgotten the need for socio-economic development to uplift the standard of living of the rakyat here,” said Uggah.

His text of speech was read by Telang Usan State Assemblyman Dennis Ngau, who represented Uggah at the official opening of the HDA Socio-Economic Lab today.

“So I hope this Lab will lead to socio-economic programmes and projects that will allow local communities as well as equity holders, workers, contract farmers, land owners and others to participate in.

“Through the programmes and activities, we must ensure that the profits generated will be channeled back to improve health and education services,” Uggah said, adding that he believes the Lab will “incubate ideas” that will attract potential investors to spearhead viable and sustainable projects.

Economic sectors that have potential for growth include forestry, agriculture and eco-tourism, Uggah said.

The promotion of tourism can focus on showcasing the local culture and traditions of Berawan, Penan and Kelabit communities, he added.

“The farms and buffaloes of Bario for example, can be capitalised for tourist visits and farm stays while adventure tourism will require new and improvement of trails, guides and facilities in the national parks. In Bario, the main crop is paddy, and the iconic Bario rice is exported even to Singapore,” he said.

Uggah said the Sarawak Government will continue to diversify its economy with special focus on modernising agriculture, strengthening infrastructure, enhancing tourism, and accelerating human capital development as outlined in the Post Covid-19 Development Strategy 2030 (PCDS 2030).

“I want to assure everyone here – whether they’re from Marudi, Mulu, Telang Usan, Bario, Long Banga or Beluru – that we are with them and no one will be left behind. We don’t want the rural areas to lag behind the towns and cities. The Sarawak government will continue to maintain its commitment to creating an ideal climate for investments through business-friendly policies and initiatives to shore up the confidence of local and foreign investors,” said Uggah.

Earlier, chief executive officer of RECODA Datu Ismawi Ismuni said highland communities can learn to adopt new business models, such as public-private partnerships to access new markets.

“We want to discover which products and services that are unique to the highlands that are scalable and marketable for investors here and abroad. We also want to maximize the engagement between the people of the highlands and what their land can offer.

“This lab offers an exciting opportunity for stakeholders to learn what can be done to create value-added products and services to generate revenue that can be channeled back to improve their quality of life.

“This lab is also an excellent platform to discover what training or skills development may be needed by local communities, or maybe identify which cultural assets that can be leveraged,” he added.

RECODA is a statutory body set up in 2006 to oversee and manage the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) project. HDA is a regional development agency under RECODA.

Aside from being tasked with drawing investments and creating job opportunities for Sarawakians, RECODA is the implementing agency for infrastructure and socio-economic development projects in the SCORE region, which covers 80% of the state’s land area.

Since 2017, RECODA was entrusted by the Sarawak government to implement development projects in the regions overseen by the three development agencies with funds totalling RM4.5 billion.