IT is a well-known fact that Malaysia has committed to the international community that it would maintain 50% of its land area (330,712km2 or 33 million hectares) as forest cover, which means natural forests coverage would be kept at 16.5 million hectares. This is understood to include areas that are designated as managed production forests with logging activities carried out under a system known as sustainable forest management (SFM).
This bold pledge was first made at the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992 and reaffirmed consistently at many subsequent sustainability-related global events including the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20, the 20-year follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit.
The pledge has often been brandished by the Government as its resolute commitment to protect natural forests as the foundation for the country’s ecological well-being as well as its contribution to the global ecological balance. The commitment gained additional importance with the recognition of the carbon sink function of forests in the fight to stabilise and hopefully reverse global warming.
However, it has to be noted that the foremost policy document in forestry governance – the National Forestry Policy 1992 (NFP) – is silent on this pledge. It is of great concern that as the country develops further, pressure on forests would increase in tandem, resulting in encroachment and conversion of forests into other land-use purposes.
According to statistics published by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, forest cover, which includes both permanent forest reserves (PFRs) and state land forest, has dipped slightly from 18.5 million hectares in 1992 to 18.2 million hectares in 2014. It has to be pointed out that state land forests are highly susceptible to conversion, and their contribution to the country’s forest cover is on shaky ground.
Therefore, PFRs which were gazetted and subjected to the provisions of replacement in the event of degazettement are the more reliable statistics. And official statistics on PFRs showed that lowland forest, which made up the bulk of the forest cover, has decreased from 10.58 million hectares to 10.12 million hectares while peat swamp forests were reduced from one million hectares to 0.5 million hectares during this period.
Contribution to the 50% forest cover according to land size of the three regions in Malaysia would be 6.63 million hectares for Peninsular Malaysia, 3.68 million hectares for Sabah and 6.22 million hectares for Sarawak.
Based on the official statistics, Peninsular Malaysia would not be able to meet this commitment given that its forest cover in 2014 stood at 5.8 million hectares. Meanwhile, Sabah’s forest cover stood at 4.44 million hectares and Sarawak registered an eight million hectare coverage.
As such, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is pleased to learn that the Government is currently reviewing the National Forestry Policy which was launched in 1992.
Given the growing pressure on land to generate economic activities such as mining, plantations, infrastructure development including dam building, industrial zones and human settlements, it is vital that the revision of the NFP 1992 takes into account the 50% forest cover commitment in view of these relatively new and emerging challenges.
SAM urges the Government to make good its promise by inserting this pledge into the revised policy document to ensure that economic plans do not compromise the need to develop in a sustainable manner, which includes balancing the role of forests as an economic resource as well as provider of the various ecological services.
Given that forests and land matters are under state jurisdiction, the new policy needs to consider a burden-sharing mechanism among the states to achieve the 50% forest cover. In addition, a policy will not achieve its goals unless there is a clear implementation plan supported by a financial plan.
SAM is also deeply concerned that the seemingly “stable” forest cover also counts in the contentious large monoculture plantations. On the ground, such plantations are developed both within the PFR and the non-gazetted state land forests. As such, the integrity of our forestry statistics on forest cover is also questionable.
Based on the annual reports and reporting on the websites of the forestry departments in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah, we have estimated that by 2013, forested areas as large as 324,417 hectares in the peninsula, 271,110 hectares in Sabah and 2,827,372 hectares in Sarawak have been designated for monoculture plantation development. If Sarawak’s share is further limited to areas that have been cultivated, at 471,892 hectares, the figure would still be as large as 1.1 million hectare, or 5.9% of our forested areas – slightly smaller than Terengganu.
It has to be noted that the promotion of plantation forests is driving deforestation when they are established in PFRs as well as on state land forests. Monoculture plantations should not be allowed to replace natural forest areas, degraded or otherwise, any further. They must also be removed from the statistics on the country’s forest cover.
S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS
Sahabat Alam Malaysia
Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/03/21/review-of-1992-forestry-policy-timely/#bg17fokab2eFyAcX.99