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14. Malaysia

Country data

Total land area (million ha)


Total forest 1998 (million ha)/% of land area *


Natural forest 1998 (million ha) **


Total change in forest cover 1995-98 (million ha)/annual change (%)***


Population total 1998 (millions)/annual rate of change 1995-98 (%)****


Source of data: Forest Department Headquarters, May 2000

* Inclusive of forest area and area under agricultural tree crops

** Dipterocarps, swamp forests and mangrove forests

*** Total changed on forested and tree crops area

**** According to the World Population Prospects, the 1998 Revision, ECOSOC - UN

General information

Malaysia is a tropical country which comprises Peninsular Malaysia (consisting of eleven states and the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur), Sabah (including federal territory of Labuan), and Sarawak. 79% of the population is located in Peninsular Malaysia. According to the World Bank, Malaysia is an upper-middle income country.

The manufacturing sector, including electronics, has emerged as the leading economic sector, followed by agriculture (agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries), and the retailing and hospitality sectors. The production and export of primary industries, such as crude oil, palm oil, tin, and rubber, have contributed significantly to the socio-economic development of the country. Malaysia leads the world in the production of rubber and is one of the biggest producers of cocoa, palm oil, tropical hardwoods, pepper and tin. In regard to socio-economic development, the forestry sector remains an important sector. This sector also makes a significant contribution to the conservation of genetic resources, to the climatic and environmental conditions of parks and recreational facilities, whilst providing for the needs of forest dwellers.

The year 1996-2000 is the period of the implementation of the Seventh Malaysia Plan. Like many other Asian countries, Malaysia’s economy was also influenced by the Asian economic and financial crisis, which was felt in 1998. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth declined by 6.7% after 12 years of uninterrupted growth averaging 7.8% per annum. This situation had a significant impact on the private sector spending, resulting in reduced consumption and investment that led to a build-up in stocks and excess capacity and further depressing the private sector investment.

The forestry sector remains an important sector in terms of its significant contribution to the socio-economic development of the country. Despite the regional financial crises, the total exports of timber and timber products in 1998 was impressive, the third highest among the commodities after petroleum oil and palm oil products. Exports of the major wood-based products have increased steadily over the last decade, rising from RM 8.9 billion in 1990 to RM 12.7 billion in 1998, an increase of 42.7%. However, the export value in 1998 of RM 13.5 billion declined by 3.4% compared to that in 1997 of RM 12.7 billion.

Forest resources

Under the Malaysian Constitution, land is defined as a state matter and is thus under the jurisdiction of the respective State Governments. Each State is empowered to enact laws on forestry and to formulate forest policy independently. The National Forestry Council (NFC) was established in 1971 to serve as a forum for the Federal and State Governments to discuss and resolve common problems and issues relating to forestry policy, administration and management. All the decisions of the NFC have to be endorsed by the National Council (NLC) which is empowered by the Malaysian Constitution to formulate a national policy for the promotion and control of the utilisation of land for mining, agriculture, and forestry.

The total forest area was 20.25 million ha, or 61.4% of the total land area in 1998. This is an increase of 0.83 million ha or 4.3% compared to 1990, due to the 1.55 million ha increase in forest area in Sarawak.

Taking into consideration the 4.8 million ha plantation under fast-growing agriculture tree crops such as rubber, oil palm, cocoa, and coconut, the total area under permanent tree cover amounted to 25.05 million ha or about 76.0% of the total land area in 1998. These agricultural tree crops, particularly rubber trees are of importance as sources of timber and fibre materials. Table 1 shows the trend of forest area from 1960-1998.

Table 1: Forested area and tree crops
(million ha)


Land area

Forested area

Tree crops

























































As of 1998, 14.33 million ha, or 43.5% of the total land area had been designated as Permanent Forest Estate (PFE) to be managed sustainably. These forestlands are gazetted as Permanent Reserved Forests in accordance with the National Forestry Act 1984 (amended in 1993). Approximately 3.49 million ha are classified as protection forests, with the remaining 10.84 million ha as production forests.

Besides the protection forest within the PFE, other protected areas that had been gazetted/proposed as national parks and wildlife and bird sanctuaries amounted to 2.12 million ha. Of this 0.33 million ha are located within the PFE. These parks and sanctuaries are carefully selected to reflect the representatives of the biological diversity found in the country.

The Government has set aside pockets of virgin forest, known as Virgin Jungle Reserves (VJRs) throughout the country as ecological types of original conditions, particularly for studies. As of now, 120 VJRs had been established, covering an area of 111.800 ha representing several forest types, including: mangrove swamp forest, beach strand forest. heath forest, peat swamp forest, low land dipterocarp forest, hill and upper hill dipterocarp forests, and montane forest.

Forest plantations have been established since the 1950’s. The species planted include tropical pines and fast-growing hardwood species. Other species planted include Tectona grandis, Shorea macrophylla and Durio zibethinus.

At the end of 1998, a total area of 227,863 ha of forest plantation was established in Malaysia, of which 73,735 ha were in Peninsular Malaysia. In view of the growing importance of forest plantations and to encourage greater private sector investment, a National Committee on Forest Plantation Development with full participation from the private sector was formed. The Committee’s main role is to formulate a national strategy and action plan for the promotion and effective implementation of forest plantation programmes.

Forest plantation projects are viewed as strategic projects of national interest and the Government provides fiscal incentives as well as full tax exemption under the Pioneer Status for 10 years or 100% tax exemption under the Investment Tax Allowance for 5 years, effective from 1993.

Policy and planning

The National Forestry Policy (NFP) was accepted by the NFC in 1977 and endorsed by the NLC in 1978 for the administration and management of its national forest. However, the NFP was revised in 1992 to take cognisance of current global concern on the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable utilisation of genetic resources and the participation of local communities in forestry.

To ensure effective forest management implementation in Malaysia, various forestry enactment and ordinances have been formulated and enforced by the respective State Authorities since 1910. These legislation were further strengthened in the areas of forest management planning and forest renewal operations with the endorsement of the National Forestry Act and the Wood-Based Industries Act by an act of the Parliament in 1984. These two Acts are currently being enforced by all the States, and especially in Peninsular Malaysia. In tandem with the revised National Forestry Policy and in order to further safeguard the forest resources from illegal logging and timber theft, the National Forestry Act, 1984 was amended in 1993 to include more stringent penalties for such forest offences, includinng a mandatory jail sentence of not least than one year. Actions are currently being undertaken to revise the Wood-Based Industries Act of 1984.

Forestry development in the country has been guided through a series of five-year national development plans. The strategy is based on the need to maintain sufficient areas of productive, protective and amenity forests while recognising at the same time that sustained efforts to promote economic activities in the form of secondary and tertiary processing, trading, and marketing are equally vital.

The forestry sector was analysed in four sections of Malaysia’s Fifth Plan (1986-1990): Agriculture and Rural Development, Tourism, Environment and Manufacturing. In addition, the wood-based industry (WBI) was one of the 13 industrial sectors for which a sectoral development plan was compiled under the Industrial Master Plan 1986-1995 (IMP).

Under the Seventh Malaysia Plan (1996-2000), the following strategies for the forestry sector have been adopted:

· Consolidation of Permanent Forest Estates and formulation of long-term forest management plans;

· Management and development of forest resources based on sustainable forest management principles;

· Enhancement of forest regeneration through reforestation and silvicultural treatments on logged-over forest areas;

· Consideration of environmental impacts, importance of biodiversity and genetic resources;

· Modernisation of forest industries by upgrading of processes and through improved research and development;

· Integration of forestry with agriculture in rural development through an agro-forestry programme;

· Promotion of forestry for people’s activities to improve socio-economic benefits and the quality of life;

· Promotion of training programme for human resource development to ensure an adequate supply of trained manpower to meet the requirements of forestry and wood-based industries; and

· Development of a forest information system based on timely and comprehensive data so as to improve the effectiveness of forestry planning, development, and management.

To ensure the sustainability of the forestry sector contribution to the overall socio-economic development, adequate funds have been allocated for the forest rehabilitation and development programme under normal expenditure and the five-year development plan. Moreover, a Forest Department Fund was created to facilitate the preparation and implementation of the State Forest Management and Reforestation Plans.

There are a number of complementary agencies to the Forestry Department including:

· Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB), which is responsible for initiating appropriate development in the various sectors of the timber industry and for providing the necessary assistance to ensure its continued growth as a modern and thriving sector of the economy;

· The Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) which is responsible for the implementation of research in all aspects of forestry and forest products;

· The University Putra Malaysia (UPM) which produces professional and semi-professional foresters; and

· The Malaysian Timber Council (MTC) which is committed to addressing issues such as the log supply situation, promoting the timber trade, promoting and participating in commercial forest plantations, and addressing issues undertaking projects of importance to the timber industry.

Since 1994, Malaysia has made considerable efforts in formulating the Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management (MC&I) based on the elaboration and operationalisation of the ITTO Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests and its Criteria for the Measurement of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management. This is in line with Malaysia’s position as a producing country of ITTO, as well as her commitment to achieve sustainable forest management in tandem with the ITTO Year 2000 Objective. It is required that all timbers traded in the international markets shall come from sustainably managed sources by the year 2000.

The effort was spearheaded by the National Committee on Sustainable Forest Management, which was established in February 1994. The Committee is comprised of members from the Ministry of Primary Industries Malaysia, Forestry Department Sabah, Forestry Department Sarawak, Forest Research Institute Malaysia, Malaysian Timber Industry Board, Malaysian Timber Council, and Faculty of Forestry of Universiti Putra Malaysia. To further complement and support the work of the National Committee, the ten State Forestry Departments in Peninsular Malaysia formed a Working Party on Sustainable Forest Management based at the Forestry Department Headquarters, Kuala Lumpur in February, 1994. The main objective is to furnish all necessary technical details or inputs on forest management, operations, and administration needed for the formulation and implementation of the MC&I.

Further elaboration on the ITTO Guidelines and Criteria for the Measurement of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management is necessary to better reflect the local situation, as well as to ensure its applicability within the Malaysian context. To fully operationalise the ITTO’s Criteria and Indicators, the National Committee had formulated relevant activities for each Indicator, as well as management specifications for each activity to ensure its effective monitoring and evaluation on the ground.

Based on the ITTO’s Criteria and Measurement of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management, the National Committee formulated a total of 92 activities to operationalise its 5 Criteria and 27 Indicators at the National level, covering the forest resource base, continuity of flow, level of environmental control, socio-economic effects and institutional framework. At the Forest Management Unit (FMU) level, which is being defined as an individual state, the National Committee formulated a total of 84 activities to operationalise the 6 Criteria and 23 Indicators of the ITTO’s Criteria for the Measurement of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management. Against each of the activities formulated at the National and FMU levels, the respective State Forestry Departments had also formulated management specifications (benchmark) for its effective monitoring and evaluation. Currently, a total of 201 and 191 management specifications have been formulated at the National and FMU levels respectively in Peninsular Malaysia. Of the 191 management specifications formulated at the FMU level, a total of 161 or 84% of them are identical to those formulated at the national level.

Based on feedback obtained from field evaluations, both through internal and independent assessment, and new knowledge gained on sustainable forest management, the MC&I will be periodically reviewed and refined to ensure practicality, as well as to keep pace with the latest developments in forestry. The National Forest Policy was sanctioned by the Government in 1977. In cognisance with the current concern expressed by the world community on the importance of biological diversity conservation and the sustainable utilisation of genetic resources, as well as the role of local communities in forest development, this National Forest Policy was revised in November 1992. The salient points of the revised National Forest Policy are as follows:

· to designate as Permanent Forest Estates (PFE) sufficient areas strategically located throughout the country in accordance with the concept of rational landuse;

· to manage the PFE so that they maximise social, economic, and environmental benefits for the nation and its people in accordance with the principles of sustainable management;

· to implement a planned programme of forest development through forest regeneration and rehabilitation operations, as well as the establishment of forest plantations of indigenous and exotic species to supplement the timber supply from the natural forest;

· to promote sufficient harvesting and utilisation within the production forest for maximum economic benefits, to stimulate the development of appropriate forest industries, and to create employment opportunities;

· to increase the production of non-wood forest produce to supply local demands and the requirements of related industries;

· to undertake and support a comprehensive programme of forestry education and training at all levels;

· to undertake publicity and extension services in order to generate better understanding among the community of the multiple values of forests, and to encourage private sector investment through the establishment of forest plantations on private lands;

· to provide for the conservation of biological diversity and areas with unique species of flora and fauna;

· to develop a comprehensive programme in community forestry to cater for the needs of the rural and urban communities, and to promote active local community involvement in forestry development projects, including agroforestry projects; and

· to undertake and support intensive research programmes in forestry and forest products aimed at enhancing maximum benefits from the forest.

Harvesting and utilisation

In recent years, the forest industries have been rapidly moving away from the manufacture of low value primary products. The development of secondary and tertiary wood processing industries is being actively promoted. Steps are also being taken to encourage the setting up of small scale rural-based industries using forest produce such as rattan and bamboo as raw materials. It is the Government’s objective to make Malaysia a major producer of high value added wood-based products in the world market as stipulated under the Second Outline Perspective Plan 1991-2000 and the Second Industrial Master Plan of 1996-2005.

Malaysia has succeeded in developing the utilisation of rubber wood for domestic and export markets, particularly for furniture. Currently, research on the possible utilisation of waste from oil palm trunk for moulded particle board, fibre board and furniture; palm kernel shell for activated carbon and carbon briquette; and palm fresh bunch for animal feed, energy, as well as its ash for potash are being conducted.

In the area of forest harvesting, the successful results of the low-impact logging study have been widely used in Sabah and Sarawak. The helicopter logging which was undertaken in Sarawak will continue to be used for harvesting as the damage to surrounding trees is found lower than under the conventional system. Moreover, land erosion caused by road construction is also minimised. To further mitigate the effects of timber harvesting, Reduced Impact Logging is also undertaken whereby the operations include controlling the number of trees to be felled, timber tagging, directional felling, leaving of buffer zones and the controlling of road density.

Due to the impending shortage of raw material supplies, the realisation of the need to reduce wastage of forest residues is one of the main efforts toward the achievement of sustainable forest management. Efforts are currently being undertaken by the Government to increase the efficiency of timber utilisation in the country. This includes the revoking of operating licences for inefficient mills (which have ceased operation for at least 2 years), encouraging existing mills to replace their old machinery to improve mill efficiency, undertake studies to find means and ways to optimise the utilisation of forest and mill residues, as well as the promotion of trade of the lesser known species.

The Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia has undertaken a joint collaboration project with the Danish Corporation for Environment and Development (DANCED) with an aim to optimise the utilisation of forest residues, including small dimension logs and mill residues as raw materials.

Forest industries in Malaysia are rapidly moving away from the manufacture of low value primary products. This is in line with the national objectives and priority as stipulated in both the First and Second Malaysian Industrial Master Plans, respectively for the period 1986-1995 and 1996-2005. In improving the socio-economic level of the rural population, steps are also being undertaken to encourage the setting up of small-scale rural based industries. The forestry industry has been identified as one of the resource-based industries to be further developed as an important export-oriented sector. It is the Government’s objective to make Malaysia a major producer of high value added wood-based products in the world market; specifically Malaysia would become an important furniture and joinery/mounding centre.

Collaboration with partners and international agreements

As the follow up to UNCED, Malaysia ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity. A National Committee on the Convention on Biological Diversity (NCCBD) was established to plan, co-ordinate and implement follow up actions as required under the Convention. In 1988, the NCCBD formulated the National Policy on Biological Diversity to provide the direction for the nation to implement strategies, action plans and programmes on biological diversity for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of its resources. In addition, the Government prepared a National Conservation Strategy and the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment published a country report on the Assessment of Biological Diversity in 1997.

Malaysia is a producer member country of ITTO and is committed to implementing the ITTO Year 2000 objective by making the Malaysia Criteria and Indicators (MC&I) operational and allocating financial resources to carry out forest development activities, projects, and studies related to sustainable forest management. The National Committee on Sustainable Forest Management established in 1994 will be strengthened. In line with Malaysia’s commitment towards achieving the ITTO Year 2000 objective, the implementation of the Malaysian Criteria, Indicators, and Activities for sustainable forest management will be critical. The Malaysian Criteria, Indicators and Activities for Sustainable Management (MC&I) was formulated in 1995 for two levels i.e. the national and the Forest Management Unit level, in consonance with the requirements of ITTO. Since its formulation, the MC&I has undergone numerous refinements and has taken into account the latest development on Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests which was adopted at the 24th ITTC held in Gabon in May 1998. This effort is further strengthened by the establishment of the National Timber Certification Council (NTCC) in October 1998.

Collaboration in forestry at the regional level is implemented through the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) administrative structure through the following: a) ASEAN Common Forestry Policy; b) Technical Co-operation; c) Forestry Institutions; d) Co-operation in Intra-ASEAN Timber Trade; and e) ASEAN Common stand on international issues on forestry.

In regard to collaboration with international partners, Malaysia has carried out several projects through bilateral arrangements, including the following:

· Various Malaysia-ITTO projects in the field of watershed management and rehabilitation, wildlife sanctuary and genetic resource conservation of commercial tree species, and sustainable forest management;

· Various Malaysia-German Technical Co-operation Programme (GTZ) on sustainable forest management and conservation in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Serawak;

· Malaysia-EC projects on training of forest workers in Sabah;

· Malaysia-Japan project on multi storied forest management, which aims to establish multi storied forest management systems for the tropical forest;

· Various Malaysia-Danish Co-operation for Environment and Development (DANCED) projects on sustainable management of peat swamp forests, preparation of an integrated management plan for Johor’s Mangrove forest, as well as on extraction and processing of forest residues and small dimension logs;

· Malaysia-the Netherlands projects on the documentation of scientific information on plant resources in order develop a more comprehensive inventory of the country’s forest resources, and the Forest Absorption Carbon Emission (FACE) project which is concerned with the rehabilitation of logged over areas in Sabah. Through its foundation “Keurhout”, the Government had undertaken an assessment of current forest management practices in the States of Pahang, Selangor and Trengganu based on a phased approach in accordance with the MC&I for forest management certification at the Forest Management Unit (State) level; and

· In Sabah, a forest certification exercise was also conducted by an independent assessor, SGS Sdn. Bhd, where the management model in Deramogot was certified as being a “well managed forest”.

Involvement and consultations with non-governmental organisations have been intensified in recent years. In the development of MC&I a member of internal consultative processes were carried out through the leadership of the National Timber Certification Council (NTCC). A national level consultation for the formulation of Malaysian Criteria, Indicators, Activities and Standards of Performance for Forest Management Certification was organised by the NTCC on 18-21 October 1999.

In 1993 the Government amended the National Forest Act of 1984. The amended Act has provisions for the Police and Armed Forces to undertake surveillance of forestry activities, especially in curbing illegal logging and timber theft. A new Protection of Wildlife Act became effective in 1992. It provides the legal backing for the conservation of national parks, wildlife and bird sanctuaries, as well as of endangered species.

Focal point
Dato’ Zul Mukhshar bin Dato’ Md. Shaari
Director General of Forestry
Peninsular Malaysia
Jalan Sultan Salahuddin
50660, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone: 603-2988244
Fax: 603-2925657


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