Thursday, 26 June 2008

Stop clearing forests, states told

2008/06/26 New Straits Times, Malaysia

Stop clearing forests, states told

PUTRAJAYA: State governments should heed the prime minister's directive against clearing permanent forest reserves for oil palm plantations, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin said.

He said states should stop approving such applications although they had jurisdiction on the matter. "Although states have jurisdiction over their land, we request that they do not approve applications to convert permanent forests for agriculture use, especially for palm oil plantations," Chin said yesterday after his ministry's monthly assembly.

He was commenting on Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's statement on Tuesday announcing a ban on land clearing in permanent forest reserves for new oil palm plantations.Chin said only permanent forest reserves were affected by the ban. He said companies should find alternative land for plantations.

"We are not preventing people from starting new oil palm plantations, but we ask that they use other land such as agricultural land or replace other commodity crops with oil palm."

Abdullah has said the government decided to impose the ban to avert criticism that Malaysia is sacrificing its forest reserves and biodiversity for oil palm profits.

He said there were smear campaigns by parties in Western countries against Malaysia's oil palm industry which could harm exports of the commodity.Chin said the ban was also in line with the government's policy to preserve the 15.3 million hectares of permanent forest reserves.

He reiterated Abdullah's comments that Malaysia already had 4.4 million hectares of oil palm plantations nationwide, including 600,000ha in Sarawak.Abdullah has also said opening new land is unnecessary as the existing plantations were able to meet demand. With new technology and efficient management, it is possible to increase oil palm output by 30 per cent without opening new land.