Malaysia, the world’s second largest producer of palm oil has been practising zero-burning techniques and has imposed a ban on open burning in 1998.
Director-General of Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), Datuk Dr. Ahmad Parveez Hj. Ghulam Kadir said zero burning policy is stipulated under the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Certification Scheme.
“Malaysia has long been associated with clearing of tropical rainforests and burning of peatlands and causing air pollution. Burning down of tropical forest is prohibited and against the law of Malaysia,” he said.
According to him, Malaysia recognises the increasing extent and frequency of peatland fires which are associated to haze.
The Department of Environment (DoE) has activated the National Open Burning Action Plan and the National Haze Action Plan to coordinate measures by the government agencies in addressing open burning and haze problem in the country.
He said the regulation of high-water table of between 40 cm and 60 cm is one of the key elements in the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Certification Scheme and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to control wildfires.
“Proper management is implemented to reduce the impact of oil palm planted in peat areas in Malaysia. Water table regulation is critical and is being implemented in peatland areas planted with oil palm trees,” he said.
Malaysia has adopted several key policies which include prohibiting the new planting of oil palm in peatland areas and strengthening regulations concerning existing oil palm cultivation on peatlands. The policies also see the capping of the total of oil palm cultivated area to 6.5 million hectares to ensure sustainable oil palm cultivation.
Measures are also being implemented to enhance the sustainable management of production landscapes in peat through establishing a target for mandatory certification of all plantations and smallholder production on peat (and other soils) under the MSPO beginning 1 January 2020. The MSPO scheme also places measures to enhance sustainability of agriculture and forest management.
Studies have been conducted on peatland in Malaysia specifically to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sustainable management systems on peatland is recommended.
The implementation of the National Action Plan on Peatlands and related strategies, policies and action plans reduces GHG emissions related to drainage and burning of peatland forests as well as improve management of plantation and agriculture systems in the targeted landscapes.
Malaysia also implements the National Policy on Biological Diversity (2016-2025) which is aligned with the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Malaysia is committed to incorporate the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (Post-2020 GBF) element into its existing biodiversity national policy. The Post-2020 GBF, which lists goals, targets and indicators that will replace the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets that ended in 2020.
Malaysia is also committed to promote conservation and enhancement of carbon stocks in forest and other land use, and support climate smart agriculture. The Malaysian oil palm industry is working on forest conservation initiatives and improving plantation practice. Major oil palm players which include Sime Darby, IOI Group, and Wilmar have contributed funding for nature conservation and species protection. These plantations also establish high conservation value (HCV) areas within the estates for biodiversity conservation purposes. For example, the Sime Darby Plantation has set aside 5,779 ha of HCV area for biodiversity protection.
There are many drivers of deforestation and studies revealed that oil palm is not the major cause of deforestation. This was further confirmed by reports from the Union of Concerned Scientists which stated that livestock, soya and wood products cause higher amount of forest loss compared to oil palm.
“Oil palm causes the lowest amount of forest loss. Therefore, it is unfair to say that the oil palm industry is the only single significant contributor to the environmental issues and global warming as there are many other economic activities that are responsible and contribute to the environmental and global warming issues,” he said.
In fact, Malaysia's deforestation rate has decreased. According to reports, for the period 1991 to 2000, the deforestation rate was at 0.27% and decreased to 0.09% for the period 2001 to 2010. From 2010 to 2015, the forested area has increased by 2% to 18.25 million hectares.
“Forest loss started shrinking in 2016, attributed to the implementation of the MSPO which was made mandatory beginning 1 January 2020,” said Datuk Dr Ahmad Parveez.
The State of the World’s Forests 2020 reported that the amount of forest loss has declined globally. This shows a sign of optimism whereby a balance between biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of forest or development does exist.
“Based on the perspective of the commitments by Malaysia including the MSPO certification, the primary forest loss decline in Malaysia for four years in a row, from 2017 to 2020 may have contributed towards the global downward trend,” he said.
Deforestation in pristine rainforest is prohibited for agricultural purposes. Some rainforest areas in Malaysia have been gazetted and land expansion for any purpose is prohibited. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) need to be carried out and reviewed by government for any new land expansion.
The commitment of Malaysia towards conserving biodiversity and sustainable management of forest could be seen through the pledge made during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 - to maintain at least 50% of its forest intact. Forest area in Malaysia was reported at 58.18% of total land area in 2020, according to the World Bank.
Based on the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s State of the World’s Forests (SOFO), 22 countries including Malaysia have succeeded in raising national food security levels while at the same time preserving on increasing the forest cover, showing that forests need not be cut down to produce more food.
Malaysia, the world’s second largest producer of palm oil is still ranked as the top twelve megadiverse countries in the world. It is responsible towards protecting and conserving valuable biodiversity richness and endemism in the country.