Sunday, February 6, 2011

Stripping Forests in Sarawak

United Borneo Front’s Jeffrey Kitingan made the call for the government to erase racial references in the term ‘ketuanan’ and focus on first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s original call for “unity in diversity”. Jeffrey had described the term ‘ketuanan’ as an old colonial concept of ‘master and servant’ that serves as a bitter reminder of British colonialism in Malaysia. Jeffrey said that it was regrettable that the term ‘ketuanan’, which agitates half the country, is used without caution and sensitivity reminding Malaysians about the oppression of the past.

Finally, Jeffrey had said something smart and sensible. Although I subscribe to ‘ketuanan rakyat’, I am aware that ‘ketuanan’ is a word laden with negative associations, as Jeffrey had rightly pointed out. In other words, there may be value in championing ‘unity in diversity’ after all.

A report commissioned by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International and released February 01, 2011 has issued a startling fact: Malaysia is destroying forests more than three times faster than all of Asia combined, and its carbon-rich peat soils of the Sarawak coast are being stripped even faster.

A tree stands alone in a logged area prepared for palm oil plantation in Malaysia's Sarawak State. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images.

Malaysia is uprooting an average 2 percent of the rain forest a year on Sarawak or nearly 10 percent over the last five years, and most of it is being converted to oil palm plantations. The deforestation rate for all of Asia during the same period was 2.8 percent, it said.

More than 80% of the world's most widely used vegetable oil comes from those two countries and it is estimated that more than half of what is grown in the region is planted on former tropical forests.

Loss of these forests is not only a threat to many animal species, but deforestation is also responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions and impacts heavily on communities that rely on the forest for a living – according to World Wildlife Fund’s Adam Harrison (Webpage, posted today).

UK’s The Guardian (February 02, 2011) highlighted Marcel Silvius’s (a senior scientist at Wetlands International) concern. "As the timber resource has been depleted, the timber companies are now engaging in the oil palm business, completing the annihilation of Sarawak's peat swamp forests". The said report had claimed that between 2005 and 2010, almost 353,000 hectares of peat swamp forests were cleared – a third of Malaysia's total – largely for oil palm planting.

Wetlands International said satellite imagery combined with existing data and field surveys show that deforestation as a result of the practice was now far greater than the Malaysian government has acknowledged.

This study was carried out by SarVision, a satellite monitoring and mapping company that originated with scientists at Netherlands’ Wageningen University.

Of course, as a Malaysian, I am mindful of the fact that palm oil is a major export earner for the country. But it is equally important that we take care of the planet too. As such, it is incumbent for us to ensure that our oil palm is cultivated on a planned and sustainable basis – turning this into a win-win situation for all parties, pro-Earth or otherwise.

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