Reforestation a costly affair

I REFER to the report “Xavier: Refores­tation is the way forward” (The Star, Aug 19) and would like applaud Dr Xavier Jayakumar’s support for a massive reforestation programme. While I also support reforestation, I would like to bring the following points to his attention.

1. Reforestation is not a magic bullet to solve environmental issues such as access to water, floods and landslides. It is time-consuming, costly and there isn’t a 100% guarantee of success. Reforestation failures in northern Nigeria and marginal success in southwest China are good examples. There is also no guarantee that reforested lands will be able to provide sufficient and effective ecological services such as water catchment, watershed protection, flood and erosion control. Furthermore, reforestation is a classic “treat the symptom, not the cause” approach. It should not divert us from addressing the fundamental problem – deforestation.

2. Beware of the reforestation programme’s unintended consequences. Under the false impression that reforestation will be able to solve all the environmental damage caused by deforestation, and that there is a well-funded NGO available to deal with the deforestation mess, unscrupulous entities might take advantage of the programme to justify and advocate for further logging and deforestation. This is not sustainability! Please be on guard and do not let them succeed.

3. Logging brings in RM500mil a year to the states. The industries behind logging could earn 10 times this amount. Those are the gains but what about the missing losses in the equation? How much do the forest-deprived states such as Melaka, Selangor and Penang pay for clean water each year? How much money is being spent by the federal and state governments to mitigate floods and landslides caused by deforestation each year? How much is the economic damage caused by deforestation each year? Although there is no solid proof that this is a zero-sum game, I leave it to readers to ponder if deforestation is done to benefit certain entities at the expense of the people.

4. Since prevention is better than cure, zero forest conversion is the better way forward. If we are serious about tackling climate change and securing a better future for our coming generations, it is a practical goal we should strive for, especially since there is hardly 40% forest cover left in Peninsular Malaysia. First, there should be no more “first log, let degrade, then convert” practices to conveniently allow agricultural expansion. Second, Dr Xavier should consider expanding the current list of protected areas in Malaysia to include crucial water catchment (for example the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve) and environmentally sensitive areas (all the primary and secondary linkages identified in the Central Forest Spine Master Plan that are still intact). It will undoubtedly be a drawn-out battle with the states but our forests will be secured once the legislation is in place.

5. Zero forest conversion is by no means an anti-logging policy. Selective logging should be welcomed as long as it is done transparently and sustainably. There is, however, an urgent need to revise and implement stricter sustainable forest management practices through the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC). To begin, the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) should be made obligatory for all forest managers in Malaysia.