ALOR SETAR: Kedah has announced it will stop logging at the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve, which is crucial to the water supply of Kedah and Penang.
"Kedah has decided to stop logging in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve area and parts of the Kedah forest gazetted as a permanent forest or catchment area to ensure water supply to the people and the padi industry in Kedah is guaranteed," said Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Tun Dr Mahathir in a statement on Oct 3.
"In addition, all new applications for logging concessions in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve have been rejected and the old concessions were discontinued,"
To make up for the loss of logging revenue, Kedah will explore new sources of wealth.
One of these is for international agencies to pay Kedah to refrain from logging, a programme known as Reduction of (CO2) Emissions Programme as a result of Logging and Degradation of Forest (REDD).
As such, Mukhriz said he had initiated a discussion with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in New York recently on the possibility that this can be done, especially since the UNDP is the main driver of REDD.
In May 2017, 10 environmental groups, including WWF, the Malaysian Nature Society and Sahabat Alam Malaysia, appealed to the Kedah state government to stop logging and protect Ulu Muda.
The forests here are a crucial water catchment area that provides 96% of Kedah’s and 80% of Penang’s water supply.
“It is water from the Greater Ulu Muda forests that enables farmers to practise double cropping of padi, contributing to about one-third of the nation’s rice production and the livelihood of 55,000 families,” said the groups.
Apart from padi, the forests also provide water for industries and household use in Penang and Kedah.
The ten groups asked that the whole area, known as the Greater Ulu Muda Forest Complex covering 163,000 hectares, be given permanent protection by declaring it a state park, similar to the Royal Belum State Park in northern Perak.
In 2003, the Federal Government agreed to pay Kedah RM100mil annually if the state did NOT log its forests.
However, that was the last year of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure as Prime Minister and, subsequently, the money was never paid.
When PAS took over the Kedah State Government in 2008, logging accelerated as its Menteri Besar, the late Tan Sri Azizan Abdul Razak, claimed that the state lacked other sources of income.
In the 2013 election, Mukhriz and Barisan Nasional attacked the PAS administration for the logging and made an election pledge to halt it.
Mukhriz famously said then: “To me, a tree is worth more standing than felled.”
But two years after winning the state and becoming Menteri Besar, Mukhriz told the Kedah state assembly in 2015 that the Kedah state government had to issue logging licences as this had been approved by the previous PAS administration.
Mukhriz himself had to step down as Mentri Besar in 2016 after a political crisis.
Pakatan Harapan managed to form the Kedah state government after the May general elections and Mukhriz returned as Mentri Besar.
He said that from the discussion with WWF and UNDP, they were impressed with Kedah's stand and invited him to a discussion on Forest and Finance at the German representative's office in the United Nations (UN).
"Meeting with experts in the field of finance and sustainable forestry has revealed to me the numerous approaches taken by countries that face the same issue as Kedah ... for example, the success achieved by Brazil and Peru can be the basis for formulating strategy in Kedah, " said Mukhriz.
Mukhriz said this upcoming international link would indirectly help Kedah ensure the sustainability of its forests while exploring the potential of economic activities such as eco-tourism.
He said all parties were aware that Kedah did not have natural resources that could generate wealth such as oil and gas.
As for forest products and raw materials such as iron ore, tin and other minerals, these were limited and could not contribute much to state revenues.
"The agriculture sector focuses on padi which is subject to the Food Supply Guarantee policy. Various subsidies are provided, but farmers are still not among the rich," said Mukhriz.