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Chan Lai Har



Malaysia's rich and diverse tropical rainforests are recognized internationally as one of the megadiversities for both flora and fauna. The forests are inhabited by well over 8 000 species of flowering plants, 1 000 species of vertebrates, over 6 000 species of butterflies and moths, an estimated 20 000 to 80 000 invertebrates and an unaccounted number of insect species and other lifeforms. The forests are managed carefully in accordance with the principle of sustainable forest management (SFM) to achieve a balance between development and conservation, so that forest products and services can be obtained in perpetuity.

Current position

The total forested area in Malaysia in 2000 amounted to 20.20 million ha or about 61 percent of the land area. The bulk of these forest areas comprises the dipterocarp forest (89 percent) followed by peat swamp forest (7 percent), mangrove forest (3 percent) and planted forest (1 percent). However, if one considers about 4.8 million ha planted under fast-growing agricultural tree crops, notably rubber, oil palm and cocoa, the total area under permanent tree cover in Malaysia is estimated to have been 26.93 million ha in 2000. This amounts to about 82 percent of the total land area.

Of the total forested area in 2000, 14.44 million ha or about 44 percent of the total land area has been designed as Permanent Forest Estate (PFE) to be managed sustainably for the benefit of present and future generations.

Of the total PFE, approximately 3.84 million ha are classified as Protection Forest with the remaining 10.6 million ha being classified as Production Forest. The function of the Protection Forest is to ensure climatic stability, the safeguarding of water resources, soil fertility, environmental quality, preservation of biological diversity and the minimization of damage by floods and erosion to rivers and agricultural lands. The role of the Production Forests, on the other hand, is to provide a sustainable supply of forest and timber products for agricultural and industrial purposes and for export.

Besides the Protection Forest within the PFE, other protected areas have been gazetted and proposed as national parks, and wildlife and bird sanctuaries (amounting to 2.19 million ha). Of this total, 0.32 million ha are located within the Protection Forest in the PFE; the total area designated for the protection of the environment and the conservation of biological diversity amounts to 5.31 million ha or 26.3 percent of the total forested land.

In addition, Malaysia has set aside pockets of virgin jungle reserves (VJR) throughout the country to conserve the various forest and ecological types in their original conditions. To date, a total of 120 VJRs covering an area of 111 800 ha have been established.

To supplement the future wood supply of the country and to relieve the pressure on the natural forests, forest plantations have been and will continue to be established. At the end of 2000, a

total of about 240 000 ha of forest plantations were established in Malaysia. Of this total, about 72 000 ha were established in Peninsular Malaysia with the balance of about 140 000 ha and 30 000 ha being established in Sabah and Sarawak respectively.

The forestry sector continues to contribute significantly to socio-economic development in Malaysia. It accounts for about 7 percent of total export earnings and provides employment opportunities to about 250 000 workers. Forests will continue to play an important role in the maintenance of climatic and environmental stability, the conservation of invaluable biodiversity and the supply of clean water (besides timber for downstream industries).


Federal and state powers

Under Article 74(2) of the Malaysian Constitution, forestry comes under the jurisdiction of the respective state governments. As such, each state is empowered to enact laws on forestry, formulate forest policy and undertake corresponding forest management responsibilities independently. The executive authority of the federal government only extends to the provision of advice and technical assistance to the states, the maintenance of experimental and demonstration stations, training and the conduct of research. Such a distinct division of powers has a significant impact on SFM. It poses a challenge to ensure that national policies formulated at the federal level relating to SFM will be implemented in a coordinated manner at the state level.

To facilitate coordination between the federal and state governments, a National Forestry Council was established on 20 December 1971 by the National Land Council. Under the Malaysian Constitution, the National Land Council is empowered to formulate national policies relating to land utilization in agriculture, forestry and mining. The establishment of the National Forestry Council under the National Land Council provides a forum for SFM policies to be discussed and agreed upon for implementation between the federal and state governments. Members of the National Forestry Council include Chief Ministers from all the states, ministers responsible for forestry, agriculture, environment and trade. The council is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister.


National forestry policy

Malaysia formulated a National Forestry Policy (NFP) in 1978, which was revised in 1992. The revised NFP addresses and incorporates concerns relating to the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable utilization of forest resources, ecological and environmental stability as well as the role of local communities in forest development, compared to the traditional approach of forest management, which focused mainly on timber production.

Thus the revised NFP provides for a balance between the development and conservation needs required to achieve SFM. As such the revised NFP includes provisions for the following objectives:

(a) To dedicate as PFE sufficient areas strategically located throughout the country in accordance with the concept of SFM to be managed as Protection Forest, Production Forest, Amenity Forest and Research and Education Forest.

(b) To manage the PFE in order to maximize social, economic and environmental benefits for the nation and its people in accordance with the principles of sustainable management.

(c) To increase the production of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) such as herbs and medicinal plants, bamboo and rattan through scientific and sustainable management practices to supplement local demands and the requirements of related industries.


(d) To implement programs for forest development through regeneration and rehabilitation operations.

(e) To provide for the preservation of biological diversity and the conservation of unique flora and fauna.

(f) To ensure sufficient areas for the generation of clean water, prevention of soil erosion and environmental stability.

(g) To promote education in forestry and undertake publicity and extension services to generate greater awareness on the multiple functions that forests provide.

(h) To provide for specific areas for scientific and research requirements.


National Forestry Act

In October 1984, the National Forestry Act was promulgated to strengthen the country’s capacity to implement SFM. The act was amended to further strengthen its effectiveness in dealing with forest encroachment and illegal logging, which hinder the attainment of SFM. Penalties for forest offences were increased from a maximum of RM10 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years to a maximum of RM500 000 and mandatory imprisonment of at least one year. Provision was also incorporated for the police and armed forces to undertake surveillance of forestry activities. This together with the stiff penalties helped to reduce illegal logging and forest encroachment.

The revised National Forestry Policy and revised National Forestry Act have had a significant impact on efforts undertaken towards achieving SFM. They both embody a vital change in the philosophy of forest management, away from simply ensuring sustainable timber yields to ensuring the sustainability of the multiple functions of the forests. Henceforth, the effectiveness of forest management will be based not just on the forests’ capacity to produce wood in perpetuity, but more on how forests are managed to balance ecological, social and environmental functions with their economic importance.


ITTO guidelines and criteria

Malaysia is a member of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). Thus Malaysia is committed fully to achieving SFM, which has an important bearing on forest management. In this regard, Malaysia has adopted ITTO's Guidelines for the Sustainable Forest Management of Natural Tropical Forests and its Criteria for the Measurement of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management.

Towards this end a National Committee on SFM was established in 1994 in the Ministry of Primary Industries to operationalize the ITTO Criteria and Indicators for SFM. The National Committee has formulated the Malaysia Criteria and Indicators (MC&I) for Sustainable Forest Management based on the ITTO Criteria and Indicators. The MC&I are formulated for two levels of operations, one at the national level and the other at the forest management level. At the national level the MC&I comprise seven criteria, 64 indicators, 201 activities and 170 standards of performance. At the forest management level, the MC&I consist of seven criteria, 56 indicators, 172 activities and 150 standards of performance. Since their first formulation in 1994, the MC&I have undergone numerous refinements both through internal and external consultative processes, to take into account the latest developments in forestry.


SFM licence agreements in Sabah

In Sabah, the State Government has developed the Sustainable Forest Management Model at the Deramakot Forest Reserve to implement SFM. Based on the success of the Deramakot Model, in 1997 the state government adopted a policy to extend the model to the other forest management units (FMUs). Towards this end, 10 organizations from the private sector signed Sustainable Forest Management Licence Agreements (SFMLAs) in 1997 to manage the forest in accordance with SFM principles for 100 years. The number of SFMLA holders increased to 15 in 2000. The new policy stance by the state government is significant as henceforth forest management is aimed at encouraging the sustainability of the resource base. Under this concept, the SFMLA holders need to manage the forest areas sustainably, prepare long-term forest management plans, employ ecofriendly harvesting plans and undertake enrichment planting, forest rehabilitation and silviculture. These activities require considerable financial and human resources, both of which will need to be invested in effectively to achieve SFM.


Timber certification

To strengthen measures towards SFM, the federal government established the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) in October 1998. The MTCC is a non-profit company set up to implement the timber certification scheme in Malaysia to promote SFM. The MC&I are used as the basis for third party independent assessment of progress towards SFM. Three states, i.e. Selangor, Pahang and Terengganu in Peninsular Malaysia were assessed in 1996 and reassessed in 1998. In Sabah, the Deramakot Forest Reserve was also certified as a well-managed forest. Steps are now being undertaken to certify the remaining states in Peninsular Malaysia while field testing of the MC&I is expected to be implemented in a forest concession in Sarawak.


Levy-financed SFM projects

In Peninsular Malaysia, part of the levy imposed on the export of timber products has been allocated to finance SFM projects. Under the scheme, the federal government has decided to allocate RM1 from the Malaysian Timber Industrial Development Fund (MTIDF) for every RM5 spent by state governments in Peninsular Malaysia on SFM. The projects eligible for financing include forest inventory, preparation of forest management plans, environmental impact assessments (EIAs), computerization of forestry departments, training and forest certification. The objective of such financing is to influence and encourage state governments to undertake activities in support of SFM. Since the levy is imposed only on exports of timber products in Peninsular Malaysia, the financing is available to states in Peninsular Malaysia only.


Related environmental management policy and prescriptions

The detrimental effects of forest harvesting on the environment are well known. To minimize such effects, policy prescriptions have been formulated for harvesting and all related infrastructure development in the PFE. Such activities will now need to be carried out in accordance with the principle of SFM and prescribed forest management and harvesting plans. In this regard various regulations and guidelines for forest harvesting and forest road construction with special emphasis on environmental conservation have been adopted to supplement the forest management and harvesting plans. These include the ‘Forest Harvesting Guidelines’, ‘Forest Engineering Plan’ and the ‘Forest Road Specifications’. The establishment of GIS units coupled with the commissioning of the Forest Management Information System Sarawak (FOMISS) has also enhanced the technological capability of the forest departments in managing forest resources more effectively.

Malaysia has pioneered a number of practices aimed at reducing logging damage on the forest stand. They include tree marking for felling, timber tagging for identification and log removal and directional felling to reduce the negative impact of logging on the residual stand. In recent years, research into reduced impact logging (RIL) and low impact logging (LIL) technologies to minimize the negative impacts of forest harvesting on the environment have been intensified.

Furthermore, the Environmental Quality Act 1974 was amended to include EIAs in 1985 for forestry activities. The order came into force in 1987 and requires EIAs for activities that involve certain forestland uses. These include land development schemes and conversion of an area of 500 ha or more of forestland, logging, drainage of wetlands and other activities that may affect forests.


Recreation forest policy

The National Forestry Policy also provides for the development of recreational forests for ecotourism. Such forests can play an important role in increasing public awareness and appreciation of the multiple roles that forests afford to society. In this regard policy changes have been formulated to ensure that the management of recreation forests is in line with SFM principles. Thus a proper balance between the commercial development of such forests for ecotourism and the need to preserve the pristine nature of these forests for biodiversity and ecological considerations has become central to the policy stance for the development of ecotourism.

In Peninsular Malaysia, over 80 recreational forests have been developed. In Sarawak, a total of 15 national parks, five nature reserves and five wildlife sanctuaries, such as Gunung Mulu National Park, Sama Jaya Nature Reserve and Samunsam Wildlife Sanctuary, have been set aside. In Sabah, Amenity Forest Reserves meant for recreation have also been developed including the Danum Valley, the Lower Kinabatangan River or Home of the Bangkatan (the Proboscis monkey), the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre at Sepilok and the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu, which will become fully operational in 2002.


Social forestry

Many communities reside near or inside the forest reserves. In line with SFM principles, policies have been formulated to protect the forest reserves from further deterioration attributable to the activities of these communities while sustaining their livelihoods. This is achieved through policy measures to improve their livelihoods, such as providing infrastructures and other basic facilities, diversifying economic activities to increase incomes, introducing improved farming systems and promoting the participation of local communities in forestry.


Improved technologies

Based on the projections on forest production, log production from the natural forests in Malaysia was expected to continue to decline at a rate of 28.30 million m3 per annum from 1996 to 2000 and then to stabilize at a sustainable level of 17.0 million m3 per annum from 2001 to 2010. This is in line with the objective of implementing SFM. Arising from this reduction in domestic log supply, policies are being promulgated to encourage the forest industry to optimize the utilization of scarce forest resources. This can be achieved via advanced technologies, reducing production costs and wastage, reorientation of product mix and adopting new marketing strategies.


Forest plantation policy

With the expected decline in timber supply from natural forests, the development of forest plantations will be given greater emphasis in current and future government policies. The private sector will be encouraged to establish both fast-growing and high value timber plantations to provide additional and alternative sources of timber.

Forest plantation establishment will be accelerated, particularly in Sarawak and Sabah while those already established by the Forest Department in Peninsular Malaysia will be privatized. The State Government of Sarawak has planned for 1 million ha of forestland, degraded by shifting cultivation, to be planted with fast-growing species during the next 15 to 20 years. The government has to that effect enacted the "The Forests (Planted Forests) Rules 1997", which set out the procedures and conditions for the orderly establishment of forest plantations in Sarawak. Incentives in the form of low land premiums and long leases have been provided to encourage investments. In Sabah, a total of 745 080 ha have been identified as suitable for forest plantations. The development of forest plantations will help to contribute to SFM as they will help to supplement wood supplies to downstream industries thereby reducing pressure on natural forests.


Policy on NWFPs

Besides the production of timber products, policies are now geared towards the development of NWFPs and forest services as well as agroforestry. This is to maximize returns to investors and to diversify the forestry sector, an important aspect of SFM. Non-wood forest products, including rattan, bamboo and herbal and medicinal plants, will be developed in a more integrated manner. Agroforestry will be promoted to address the increasingly scarce availability of land and raw material. This will allow for a wider range of agricultural crops to be planted with forest tree species, optimizing land use and returns to the sector.

The development of biotechnology products, the extraction of natural chemicals from forest biological resources, the utilization of forest biomass for clean fuel production and the development of genetically engineered products from flora will be promoted. The diversification of forestry products will make SFM a more viable option since the forests will yield greater revenues that can be reinvested into the sector to ensure its sustainablility.


Forest R&D policy

In the field of forest research and development (R&D), policy emphasis will be accorded to R&D in SFM. In particular, research to support the multiple functions of forests, such as biodiversity conservation, protection of water resources and the maintenance of climatic and soil stability will be emphasized. Greater attention will also be given to the commercialization of R&D results from the forestry R&D institutions. This is to accelerate the transfer of technology to the private sector in production and utilization of timber and forestry technologies to support SFM.


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