PETALING JAYA: Chiong Yoke Kong comes from a long line of farmers so it is only natural that the sector is close to his heart.
As state assemblyman for Tanah Rata, he takes it upon himself to see that farmers are able to get their produce to the market a task made more difficult in this time of crisis.
Since the movement control order (MCO) was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19, he has become the spokesman for the many farmers in Cameron Highlands anxious to see their produce reach their customers in the urban centres of Kuala Lumpur and other parts of the country.
But travel restrictions have led to delays and even stoppages in the delivery of vegetables to cities, leaving farmers with large quantities of unsold greens.
To reduce wastage, many have opted to sell at rock-bottom prices or even give away to charity homes but a lot of leftover remains that has to be discarded.
But for the 37-year-old, who was elected to represent Tanah Rata two years ago, other issues are equally important.
Apart from agriculture, tourism also counts as a major sector for the mountain resort. However, it has proven to be both a boon and a bane.
“It is a tourism hotspot, and that helps to generate revenue for the people here,” Chiong told theSun in an email interview. However, the tourism boom has also caused problems such as traffic jams.
Another concern is overdevelopment to meet the demands of tourists at the expense of the local communities, particularly the orang asli community.
“A lot of the jungle has been cleared in the name of development, and this has had a negative impact on the livelihood of the orang asli,” he said.
At 14.39%, the orang asli make up a substantial proportion of voters in Cameron Highlands, larger than in many other constituencies.
Despite the many problems he faces, Chiong remains optimistic.
“There has been progress as well,” he said. Farmers and orang asli have become more involved in the tourism sector.
Farms have doubled up as educational centres for tourists.
“Visitors can now visit these places to learn more about the crops we cultivate, and even participate in hands-on activities such as planting or caring for the crops,” Chiong said.
The orang asli have also opened their doors to tourists and visitors now get to learn more about their traditional culture.
“This organic synergy has proven to be a success in helping to boost tourism,” the state assemblyman said.
Another item on Chiong’s to-do list is to elevate the socio-ecnomic status of the local communities, especially the orang asli.
“By promoting community-based programmes, with tourism as the central theme, we hope to be able to venture into other areas like marketing and selling other local products. We hope this will also help to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor,” he said.
There is another issue that Chiong hopes to resolve.
“Young people are leaving Cameron Highlands to look for jobs in the cities because resources here are limited,” he said.
He believes that with the right strategy, Cameron Highlands could entice its young people to stay and be party to its economic growth.
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Helping farmers cope with MCO