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Is Malaysian forest policy and legislation conducive to multiple-use forest management?

K. Kumari

Kanta Kumari is Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE), University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom.

Currently, the sustainable forestry debate is high on the international agenda, and with it the pressure for countries to adopt strategies that recognize the forests for their multiplicity of goods and services. This article explores, for Peninsular Malaysia, whether current forest policy and legislation is conducive to achieving multiple-use management of the resource.

Malaysia is committed to "sustained timber yield" for the vast extent of forest which has been set aside as permanent forest estate. Sustained timber yield, however, is not synonymous with "sustainable forest management". In fact, timber harvesting can have disruptive or devastating effects on the flow of the multiplicity of goods and services provided by the forests.

On the other hand, harvesting does not exclude continuity of many of the environmental services, including hydrological and recreational services, and carbon sequestration (Kumari, 1994). Sustainability as a concept has been defined in various ways, but there is no definition of sustainability that does not imply maintenance of a productive potential of the asset base.

Sustainable forest management is interpreted here as the adoption of a management system that ensures that the multiplicity of goods and services accruing from it are non-declining over time.

Multiple-use management does not mean that every tract of forest must be managed for all the goods and services it provides, but rather that the approach should encompass a strategy which optimizes the overall benefits. The omission of non-timber benefits in conventional financial and economic analysis is often a contributing factor to mismanagement of the resource. It is argued here that the recognition of the forests as a multifunctional resource is an essential but not the sole condition for attaining overall sustainability of the resource and, hence, the question in the title of this article. The analysis is confined to the 11 states of Peninsular Malaysia, and does not include Sabah and Sarawak because of the wide-ranging differences in the political, social and economic climate there.


Reserved forests were originally delineated in accordance with the Land Capability Classification as lands not suitable for mining or agriculture (Lee and Panton, 1971). The total natural forest stock in Peninsular Malaysia is made up of the permanent forest estate (PFE); national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and wildlife reserves; and stateland forests. PFE includes all areas legally designated as reserved forest under the various state forest enactments and, later, under the National Forestry Act (1984) - now the National Forestry (Amendment) Act (1993). National parks, wildlife sanctuaries and wildlife reserves represent totally protected areas gazetted under the Wildlife Act (1972). The third category, stateland forests, has been referred to as "forests that are theoretically targeted for conversion" (World Bank, 1991 ); "land for which no long-term use has been decided" (Jaako-Poyry, 1990); or "land which could over the long term be co-opted into the PFE system or converted to some alternative form of land development, at the discretion of the State authorities" (World Bank, 1991). The analysis here pertains directly to the PFE. As of 1990, a total of about 4.75 million ha was set aside as PFE in Peninsular Malaysia, to be retained in perpetuity under forest cover.

Under Article 74(2) of the Federal Constitution, the states have a virtual monopoly over their respective forest land, with full powers of disposal. These forest lands provide an important source of revenue for financing the recurrent and development expenditure in the individual states. Because forestry revenues accrue directly to each state, the state governments earn resource rents from logging. Downstream industries pay federal taxes which accrue to the federal government and, therefore, often receive less attention from state governments. Thus federal and state interests differ where forest resource utilization is concerned. The Constitution, under Article 94(1), ninth schedule, however, empowers the federal government to formulate such forestry legislation as may be necessary to promote uniformity between two or more states.

Forest legislation in Peninsular Malaysia has been in force since the 1930s when the various forestry enactments and rules were formulated by the respective state authorities. During the years of early forestry legislation of the 1930s, the PFE in Peninsular Malaysia had been classified broadly into two categories - as productive forests and unproductive forests. Nowhere in the early publications were these categories defined; however, it is apparent that "productive" was related to the capacity to produce timber on a sustained yield basis. Altitude was used as a key parameter for the demarcation between the two classes but the threshold altitudinal height varied from state to state. For example, in the State of Terengganu an altitude of less than 457 m above mean sea level demarcated productive forest land from the non-productive forest land; whereas in Negri Sembilan and Melaka, forest land with an altitude of less than 305 m together with 50 percent of forest land with an altitude above 305 m constituted productive forest.

Any forest land deemed unproductive in the context of timber was assumed to be available for conversion to agriculture. Between 1957 and 1960, a total of 79 000 ha were opened for conversion in Peninsular Malaysia, but by the end of 1965 the total had risen to 438 878 ha (MLAM, 1968). Not surprisingly, the early 1970s saw a public outcry about the large-scale loss of forest land in the country (Aiken et al., 1982; iHurst, 1990i).

In 1971, the National Forestry Council was established to facilitate the adoption of coordinated and rational utilization of forest resources, consistent with the need to maintain the forest as a long-term renewable resource. In addition, the Council was also to serve as a forum for the federal and state governments on problems and issues relating to forestry policy, administration and management. In 1978, the National Forest Policy (FFD, 1978) was formalized with the primary objective to expand the role of the permanent forest estate to protective, productive and amenity forestry (see Box). This represented the first concerted effort towards a holistic approach to forest management, with specific allowances being made for ecological considerations.

Protective forests corresponded to all areas above the steep land boundary set at 18.3°, equivalent to a gradient of one in three, which corresponds to the recommended limit for agricultural alienation purposes as defined by the National Land Council. Productive forests comprised those areas which, although less steep, were deemed not suitable for agriculture (MPI, 1988). Amenity forests were of very limited extent, and were largely identified through patronage by the public to specific sites within the PFE system (Sabri, 1987). Currently, the total number of amenity forests is 53, comprising only 2 335 ha. In practical terms, the result was that productive and protective forests were very similar to the productive and unproductive forests under the previous designation. Between 1960 and 1985, the percentage of productive forests increased from about 65 to 75 percent of the total (Kumari, 1994); however, the long-term target is expected to be about 60 percent of the forests being designated as productive (MPI, 1988).


In response to contemporary challenges on forest to meet the needs of socio-economic development, as well as ensure its sustainable utilization, the National Forest Policy (1978) was revised in 1992. Under this revised policy, the permanent forest estate is to be managed for research and education, in additional to the three roles identified earlier (MPI, 1992). In general, this revised National Forest Policy (1992) aims at a more comprehensive approach that addresses in greater depth the requirements for sustainable management, development, conservation and control of the resource to fulfil the needs of the people, industry and the protection of the environment.

Basic responsibility for implementing the provisions of the National Forest Policy still rests with the state governments. In 1984, the principles of the National Forest Policy of 1978 were enshrined as the Wood Industries Act (1984) and the National Forestry Act (NFA) (1984) which has now been replaced by the National Forestry (Amendment) Act (1993) to allow for a more effective enforcement of the principles of management as recommended by the revised National Forest Policy (1992). Most of the amendments to the act involve mandatory and higher fines for illegal logging practices.

The National Forestry Act (1993) has been endorsed by all the Peninsular Malaysian states and supersedes all previous forestry legislation. Of particular relevance is Section 10(1) of this act which recognizes the forest for the multiplicity of goods and services it provides, and requires the delineation of each of the reserved forests within the PFE for 11 functional categories (see Box).

The physical delineation of each reserved forest into these functional categories may overlap; that is to say, the same tract of the reserved forest may be assigned or gazetted for more than one category. Once the State Executive Committee has endorsed the designation of any of these categories on a particular forest reserve, any subsequent degazetting of the reserve itself would require each category to be degazetted separately. Thus, these categories have a legal standing, and it is clearly intended that they will not be degazetted without consideration being given to the multiplicity of functions provided by each tract of forest.

The shifts in the classification of the forests from productive-unproductive to productive-protective-amenity and now to productive-protective-amenity-research and education at the policy level is encouraging. It suggests a change from viewing the forests exclusively as a source of timber to one where they are increasingly recognized for the multiplicity of goods and services they can provide on a sustainable basis. There is a need, however, to assess the actual effectiveness of these different classifications on the forests and, especially, to appreciate the forest for its multiplicity of benefits, in the context of sustainable management.


To facilitate implementation of the National Forestry Act (1993), a document entitled Guidelines for the interpretation of classification of permanent forest reserves was accepted at a 1993 meeting of the State Directors of Forestry. All of the permanent forest estate is categorized into two altitude groups i.e. less than or greater than 600 m above sea level. In addition, the PFE is delineated into two slope categories corresponding to below and above 40° (see Table 1). According to the classification guidelines, logging is strictly prohibited in forests with slopes greater than 40°, i.e. in 0.5 percent of the permanent forest estate. If logging were limited to areas that are less than 600 m in altitude and below the 40° slope, logging would be theoretically permissible on some 60 percent of the PFE. On the other hand, if the rationale were to maximize loggable areas, i.e. to permit logging in areas above 600 m but with slopes of less than 40°, logging could be conducted over 99.5 percent of the PFE. It is noteworthy that the selection of 600 m as a cut-off point beyond which logging should not be conducted exceeds the altitude limit for logging which had been adopted by most of the individual states.

In addition to this broad delineation of the PFE by slope and altitude, under the classification guidelines each patch of forest is to be assessed for the 11 functional goods and services identified in the National Forestry Act (1993). All areas with slopes steeper than 40° are to be categorized as soil protection forest while the remaining are designated for timber production under sustained yield. In these areas, timber extraction is the default option unless the area is also designated for any of the other functions listed in NFA (1993).

When an area has been gazetted under more than one function, it is to be managed as that category which is most restrictive; e.g. if an area is gazetted for both timber production under sustained yield and as a wildlife sanctuary, as logging is not allowed in the latter category the area will not be subject to logging. The guidelines recommend against logging in the following categories: soil protection forest, forest sanctuary for wildlife, virgin jungle reserved forest, amenity forest, education forest and research forest.

Table 2 provides a summary of the situation for ten of the 11 states of Peninsular Malaysia. If one considers the total area gazetted specifically for environmental services, i.e. the water catchment and soil protection categories, 21 percent of the PFE is delineated for these services. However, it is noteworthy that logging is permitted in water catchment forests, albeit under more stringent rules. The percentage of the PFE which is totally protected is only about 2 percent. It is also noteworthy that none of the forest reserve land has been gazetted as soil reclamation or flood control forest, in spite of the fact that these two categories are identified as being important in the classification guidelines prepared by the Federal Forest Department.

In summary, then, at least 78 percent of the PFE has been earmarked for sustained timber yield. Thus, although NFA (1993) provides a legal platform for the multiuse management of the PFE, an analysis of the actual situation reveals that there is still a strong bias in the act and its interpretation towards management of forests for timber. It appears that environmental service roles are still being underemphasized. Accepting the paradigm of forests as multifunctional, as stipulated in NFA (1993), is a good first step towards sustainable forest management. But what is equally, if not more, important is to mobilize action towards maximizing the long-term benefits (intergenerationally) of this multiplicity of values. In Malaysia, and elsewhere, sustainable forestry has for a long time been interpreted within the narrower context of sustained yield of timber (i.e. products that have clearly defined market values); and, while NFA (1993) represents a bold step towards rectifying the bias against the non-timber functions of the forests, the above analysis illustrates that in reality the situation is still far from satisfactory.

A number of additional criticisms may be made regarding NFA (1993). Of particular mention is the total omission of non-timber forest products as a category. During the development of NFA (1993) the World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWFM, 1991) had recommended that the category of "timber production forest under sustained yield" be modified to "production forest under sustained yield", but this was not accepted.

Second, the categories as defined under Section 10(1) are not comprehensive in terms of the goods, services and attributes provided by the forests. Comparing the list in the legislation with a typology of goods and services which is used in the general "total economic valuation" model for forests, several crucial services, such as conservation of biological diversity, nutrient cycling and non-timber products, are absent. Of course, forests delineated for timber production also provide crucial ecological services; but it is important to recognize explicitly that the effectiveness of these services depends on how environmentally sound the logging practices are.

This is especially important when reserved forests are being considered for an alternative land use, as is provided for under Section 11 of NFA (1993):

"the State Authority, if satisfied that any land in a permanent reserved forest a) is no longer required for the purpose for which it was classified under Section 10; and b) if required for economic use higher than that for which it is being utilized; may excise such land from the permanent reserved forest".
To ensure that a rational decision is made in such a case it may be important to go beyond the timber benefits alone. In fact, there is a need for the total economic value of the forests to be estimated - and not just one based on the official classification.

A further cause for social inefficiency would be a situation brought about by the enforcement of Section 12 of NFA (1993) which states:

"where any land is excised under Section 11 the State Authority shall, wherever possible and if it is satisfied that it is in the national interest to do so having regard to - a) the need for soil and water conservation and other environmental consideration; b) the need to sustain timber production in the State in order to meet the requirements of the forest industry; c) the economic development of the State; and d) the availability of suitable land, - constitute in accordance with Section 7 an approximately equal area of land as the permanent reserved forest".
There are several reasons for concern with regard to the application of such a clause. First, the requirement by the act in terms of area/size is only on the basis of economic equity. This situation can be perceived as an instance of market and information failure. It indicates that there is still a basic lack of understanding and appreciation of forest dynamics. A forest provides site-specific benefits, and the replacement of an equivalent area elsewhere may fail to substitute fully for such a loss. Moreover, the removal of the forests at a given site may also result in "externalities". Finally, forests are becoming increasingly scarce, and enforcement of such a clause is likely to become increasingly difficult, or even impossible, in the near future.


Although the framework of NFA (1993) provides a legal platform for the multiple-use management of the permanent forest estate, most of the efforts of the State Forest Departments are still directed towards the harvesting of timber. The other non-timber or service roles are accorded secondary importance. Thus, in response to the question posed in the title of this article, "Is Malaysian forest policy and legislation conducive to multiple-use forest management?", it would be fair to say that, although the process of forest policy and legislation in Peninsular Malaysia has evolved over the years to recognize the multiplicity of forest functions, the bias towards timber production seems to persist in management practices. The implementation of multiple-use management of forests in Peninsular Malaysia is progressing but immediate and effective action must continue to be taken to overcome the persistent and causal factors which could undermine the exemplary legislation that has been put in place in recent years.


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