Addressing the issues plaguing Malaysia's forests

The forest resources of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are rich heritage that must be protected and safeguarded, for the benefit of both the present and future generations.

Proper forest management and certification key to sustainability

THERE is no denying that forests play an integral role in sustaining life on the planet, as they are home to about 80% of the world’s land-based animals and plants.

In Malaysia’s forests, it is not uncommon to see massive trees that tower more than 80m above the forest floor. After all, they number among the oldest and most complex forest ecosystems in the world, with an enormous range of flora and fauna.

Amazing biodiversity aside, forests are a nature-based solution to combat a critical global issue: climate change. By virtue of the ability to capture and store carbon, forests remove significant volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Moreover, forests play a key role in the protection of global water resources. In fact, much of the world’s drinking water comes from forested areas, according to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation.

In terms of the economy, forests contribute significantly to national and regional economies where forest-based enterprises make up approximately 13% to 15% of all rural non-farm employment – equivalent to 17 million formal sector and 30 million informal sector jobs, according to the International Union of Forest Research Organisations.

Not to mention that Malaysia’s forests are also home to many tribal and indigenous peoples.

Yong: SFM through MTCS will be significant in achieving the SDGs.Yong: SFM through MTCS will be significant in achieving the SDGs.

“For centuries, Malaysian forests have been performing a vital role in providing mankind with multiple benefits, including the provision of clean water and air, as well as important resources such as food, timber and medicines.

“The forest resources of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are therefore rich heritage that must be protected and safeguarded, for the benefit of both the present and future generations, ” said Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) chief executive officer Yong Teng Koon.

With that in mind, the dilemma is in enabling industry growth and development, but at the same time ensuring that the usage of such precious assets for industry will not erode Malaysia’s natural heritage.

The answer, Yong firmly believes, lies in harvesting nature’s bounty responsibly through implementing sustainable forest management (SFM) practices and obtaining the proper certifications.

He said this is because SFM practices – which take into account the three pillars of sustainability covering social, economic and environmental aspects – are essential in ensuring a sustainable future.

He added, “MTCC adopts ‘Sustainable Forest Sustainable Future’ as its tagline and equates sustainable forests to a sustainable future for Malaysia. And SFM is also crucial for a sustainable timber industry in the country.”

Battling unsustainable practices

The organisation he helms, MTCC, has been at the forefront in championing SFM for natural forests and forest plantations and at the same time, meeting the increasing global demand for certified timber products.

In developing the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS), a voluntary national scheme that provides for independent assessment of forest management practices and audit of timber product manufacturers or exporters, it sought to ascertain that the timber products manufactured or exported are sourced from sustainably managed forests.

Endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) since May 2009, it is also the first tropical timber certification scheme in the Asia Pacific region to achieve this.

Forest management certification, for both natural forests and forest plantations, involves a third-party assessment by a certification body notified under the MTCS to ensure that forest management practices implemented in a certain forest area or forest management unit (FMU) meets the requirements of the Malaysian criteria and indicators for SFM standards.

Noting that the strength of certification is the provision of transparent, structured and continuous oversight by independent certification bodies on the management of forest resources, Yong said, “In addressing the requirements for SFM as outlined in the forest management certification standard, certification requires the forest manager to take actions that may go beyond the mandate of the federal and state laws.”

The actions he refers to include the need to undertake stakeholder consultations on matters relating to indigenous rights, the impact of forest management activities to the livelihood of local communities and to ensure the safety and health of workers.

These are in addition to the need to protect forest resources and ecosystems, as well as provide significant services – for the provision of clean water, fresh air and recreation among others – for the benefit of the present and future generations.

Important to note is that such requirements are in line with Malaysia’s roadmap towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While the goals are integrated, MTCC’s role is aligned with SDG 15 in particular, which aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.

As Yong said, “Ensuring that the country’s forests are sustainably managed through the MTCS would be a significant step towards this endeavour.”

Yong added that this year’s 9th International Day of Forests - which falls on March 21, – carries the theme ‘Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being’ that should strike a chord on the significance of forest restoration efforts for future generations.

“If only forests were better taken care of and forest certification came much earlier, the costly restoration efforts today could’ve been minimised. However, it’s never too late to do the right thing.

“At this juncture in time where forest resources are scarce and the demand for them are increasing, I think the call is for us to have a balance between production and consumption. All of us need to do our bit to ensure forest sustainability for our future generations.”

Levelling up standards

Apart from ensuring SFM through forest management certification, there is also the chain of custody (CoC) certification. The CoC certification tracks forest-based products from sustainable sources to the final product, in order to ensure that each step of the supply chain is closely monitored through independent auditing.

“Certification also requires timber companies to adopt good manufacturing practices as well as focus on the social, health and safety aspects of their workers, ” he noted.

In two decades, MTCC has shown its success in changing mindsets on sustainable timber and SFM.

As of December 2020,5.27 million hectares of forests comprising 22 FMUs and eight forest plantation management units and 382 companies have obtained forest management and CoC certification respectively under the MTCS – achievements that MTCC are proud of.

Since the first shipment of 75 cubic metres of certified sawn timber to the Netherlands in July 2002, the annual export of PEFC endorsed or certified products have increased significantly and now comprises a wider range of timber products.

As of November 2020, for instance, total export of certified timber and timber products amounted to 239,546 cubic metres, with the Netherlands, Japan and the United Kingdom as major importers. Since the operation of the MTCS, a cumulative total of 2.4 million cubic metres of certified timber and timber products have been exported to 72 destinations worldwide.

Having achieved its initial vision to be recognised as the leading timber certification organisation for certified forests and its mission to establish and operate a credible and internationally recognised national timber certification scheme towards promoting SFM, MTCC is now looking towards the future.

As it commemorated its 20th anniversary in 2019, it thus adopted a revised vision and mission statement, as well as the MTCC Strategy 2020-2025. The latter comprises seven thrusts including greater uptake of MTCS certification, further enhancing MTCS’ position in national sustainability policies and the expansion of MTCS’ scope of certification to cover non-timber values among others.

Its new vision, now, is for Malaysia to become a nation that appreciates and internalises the full value and contribution of forests towards global sustainability. To that end, MTCC is committed to strengthening the MTCS to realise the full value and contribution of forests through SFM and CoC certification.

On plans, Yong shared that MTCC is currently focused on ensuring the successful re-endorsement by the PEFC for the MTCS, alongside effectively implementing its new strategy.

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