Malaysia is recognised globally for achieving the right balance between conservation and development. It has managed to retain 50% of total land area as tropical forest and at the same time developed a timber export industry that is the envy of its Asian neighbours.
As a major producer and exporter of tropical timber products, the country achieved total export of timber and timber products of RM17.81 billion – that’s the equivalent of US$4.4 billion - from January to October 2020, according to data by the Department of Statistics Malaysia and the Malaysian Timber Industry Board.
This is particularly significant as it occurred when the pandemic was raging around the world, and it remains in line with the export of timber products over the past decade, which have averaged around RM20 billion annually, thus reflecting the industry’s importance to Malaysia’s economy.
How did a country that relied so heavily on its primary resources manage to maintain so much of its forest areas amidst population growth and meeting demands for more infrastructure and pressure to extract more timber?
The answer lies in the far-sighted vision of the country’s leadership towards sustainable development.
Ensuring a balance between the development of the timber industry and the conservation of forests - numbered among the world’s oldest forests - is the role of certification. That’s the view of Malaysia Timber Certification Council (MTCC)
Chairman Kamaruzaman Mohamad.
He adds: “Ensuring proper balance between development and nature preservation is not a walk in the park, especially when Malaysia depends on timber resources as one of its income earners.”
But the global pandemic has brought to the forefront new studies on the importance of conserving forest in cushioning its effects on livelihoods and the overall wellbeing of Mother Earth in the future.
The United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs
reported in June 2020 that “research indicates that land conservation, reduction of forest loss and fragmentation, creation of buffer zones through forest restoration could reduce human-wild animal interactions and thus reduce the risk of future disease outbreaks.”
The Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in its latest 2020 report
notes: “The tropical forests in Malaysia are important national treasures and will continue to play important roles in ensuring the stability of the ecosystem and are closely linked to the socioeconomic development of the country and the wellbeing of the people”.
All this adds to what Malaysia plans to showcase at Expo 2020 in Dubai, which starts on 1 October 2021 - delayed for a year by the pandemic - where the achievements of the forestry sector will figure prominently in Malaysia’s theme “Energising Sustainability”.
Central to this is the role played by the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) – managed by MTCC - when in 2009 it became the first certification scheme for tropical forests in the Asia Pacific to be endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
, the world’s largest forest certification system.
Malaysia might have been the first country in Asia for PEFC, but its good example has encouraged others in the region to join, including Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and China.
But Malaysia has also continued to set the scene in Asia for sustainable forest management. It was awarded the Gold Medal for achieving the biggest increase in PEFC-certified forest area in 2020 – the best in the world - with over 950,000 hectares in 10 forest management units in Johor, Sabah and Sarawak.
The FAO also acknowledges that “the key objective of the forest management in Malaysia has been to ensure the continuity of product flow, while conserving the complex ecosystems and maintaining the rich and varied in flora and fauna. Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) remains the common policy thrust in Malaysia, in line with sustainable development goals”.
It’s worth pointing out that Malaysia’s leadership in Sustainable Forest Management in the ASEAN region and its 20-year involvement with forest certification, has helped PEFC achieve the highest ranking in the 2020 assessment against the ASEAN RAI Guidelines
, thanks to its coordinated national and regional approach.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Guidelines for Promoting Responsible Investment in Food, Agriculture and Forestry (ASEAN RAI) offers guidance on food, agriculture and forestry investments to agribusinesses, governments, financial institutions and producers.
Which all goes to show that Malaysia’s achievements in Sustainable Forest Management, along with its support for the timber exporting industry, have gone hand-in-hand with its record in the conservation of natural forests.
A perfect fit for the future, too.