ALOR SETAR: While the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve – the water catchment area for three states – is now safe from chainsaws, the reality of a shrinking state economy is just beginning to sink in.
The Kedah government has relied on logging premiums for too many years, with timber industry revenue making up a massive chunk of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The state’s economy is losing out on almost RM100mil a month without Ulu Muda’s timber with the Kedah government shorter by at least RM40mil each year in the absence of logging premiums.
State Environment and Climate Change Committee chairman Simon Ooi said the Kedah government was aware of the dropping GDP, adding that a taskforce to thrash out the economic costs of protecting Ulu Muda would meet next week.
“There is no questioning our commitment to protect Ulu Muda but Kedah needs to look into its economic growth, too.
“Discussions with the federal government for financial reimbursement in exchange for not tapping into Ulu Muda’s timber resources have not been concluded,” he said.
The Kedah Loggers Association claimed that the state was losing almost RM100mil a month in timber sales since the revocation of logging permits in Ulu Muda.
Its president Amin Mokhtar said the loss of income for timber-related businesses and the workforce added up to almost RM3.2bil a year.
However, he said logging companies were willing to work with the state government to pursue new economic growth areas for the state.
“Loggers and timber-related business owners have been one of Kedah’s largest economic contributors and we are ready to pitch in and help the state identify new sources of wealth,” he said.
Although it is among the poorest states in Malaysia, Kedah boasts about 300,000ha of mostly virgin jungle, more than half of which forms Ulu Muda. For decades, the state allows between 3,000ha and 12,000ha a year for logging.
In 2011, the PAS-led government approved 12,909ha for logging, raking in RM74.92mil in forest premiums that year.
The association, said Amin, was looking forward to the prospect of federal government compensating Kedah.
“We need people to know how much our state is sacrificing.
“Our plains are reserved for padi planting for food security, and now, our jungle resources are sacrificed for water security.
“The strain is overwhelming for Kedah. We keep stunting our economic development for the sake of other states,” he added.
Last September, Land, Water and Natural Resources Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar announced that the Kedah government had revoked all Ulu Muda logging permits.
Amin said the loggers had obeyed the directive to cease logging in Ulu Muda, adding that they were now waiting for a discussion with the authorities on the future of logging in the state.