Study reveals Kinabalu Park fast losing its buffer zone

© The Star 14 April 2017

PETALING JAYA: Kinabalu Park, one of Malaysia’s two World Heritage Sites, has lost large proportions of forests in its buffer zones.

It has been named as one of the worst affected Natural World Heritage Sites, seeing 15,000ha of its forests (about the size of 30,000 football fields) cleared between 2000 and 2012.

This was stated in an international study led by University of Queensland.

“Some notable Natural World Heritage Sites which lost large proportions of forest in their buffer zones are the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites, the Discovery Coast Atlantic Forests in Brazil and Kinabalu Park in Malaysia,” the study published in the Biological Conservation journal in February noted.

The 75,370ha Kinabalu Park is one of two Unesco Natural World Heritage Sites in Malaysia. The other is Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak.

The study revealed that the 203 Natural World Heritage Sites were some of Earth’s most valuable natural assets but many were deteriorating due to urbanisation, agriculture and logging.

“Our findings clearly show that Natural World Heritage Sites are becoming increasingly isolated, which is a concern since their ecological integrity depend on links with the broader landscape,” the study said.

It added that past studies found that environmental degradation around a protected area could lead to similar degradation within its borders.

The Kinabalu Park, which was designated as a Unesco Natural World Heritage Site in 2000, is an epicentre of biodiversity.

Unesco said it was home to at least half of all Borneo’s plant species, birds, mammals, amphibian species and two-thirds of Borneo reptiles unique to the island.

Among the rare species that can only be found in the Kinabalu Park are the Rothschild Slipper orchid and the Rajah Brooke’s Pitcher plant.

Known as the gold of Kinabalu, the Rothschild Slipper orchid takes 15 years to grow. It is one of the world’s most expensive orchids in the black market.

The Rajah Brooke’s Pitcher plant is the world’s largest pitcher plant that can grow up to 41cm.

Sabah Parks director Dr Jamili Nais maintained that the Kinabalu Park and its biodiversity remained intact despite fears over a substantial reduction of its buffer areas.

There was no land clearing or forest damage within the park, which is about three times the size of Penang island, he said.

“The integrity of the park is constantly safeguarded,” he said.

Jamili said there was no designated buffer zone around the world renowned park.

“What happens outside of the park boundaries is beyond the scope of the World Heritage Site.

“Having said that, we should bear in mind that the land surrounding the park is occupied by the native Kadazandusun who have been cultivating crops there for generations,” he said.

Jamili said these people initially practised shifting cultivation but had since switched to permanent farming methods.

Sabah Parks, Jamili said, had initiated a community-based forest conservation known as tagal hutan with villages around the park.

He said Sabah Park was also working towards getting the area to be declared as a Geopark, another Unesco initiative.

Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.

Sabah naturalist Datuk C.L. Chan said a reduction in the buffer area surrounding the Kinabalu Park had not affected the biodiversity within the World Heritage Site.

However, he said Unesco’s concern over the reduction of buffer areas around the park should not be taken lightly.

He said Kinabalu Park could end up as an island within a sea of agriculture and human settlements if the forested areas outside the boundaries continued to be cleared.

Cemetery’s leftover fruits don’t go to waste

BY GAN PEI LING © The Star 3 April 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: To avoid wastage on Qing Ming, a cemetery here donates leftover edible fruits to orphanages and old folks homes.

Association of Kwong Tong Cemetery Management Kuala Lumpur’s administration manager Wey Jiun Horng said the effort was part of the cemetery’s green campaign during the annual Chinese tomb sweeping day.

“A lot of people don’t take back their offerings, so we collect the apples and oranges and give them away.

“The amount of leftovers is so huge that sometimes the homes have to reject the fruits we send over,” he said.

Wey added that the association also educated the public to recycle and cut down the amount of trash.

It successfully reduced waste generated during Qing Ming by 10% last year compared to 2015 and hoped to cut it down by 30% this year.

Wey said at least 150 tonnes of rubbish were left behind each Qing Ming, requiring at least 30 trucks to ferry them away.

“It takes at least three days for our contractors to clean up the cemetery after every weekend,” he said.

The 105.6ha Kwong Tong Cemetery was set up in 1895 and is home to about 100,000 tombs and two columbariums.

Yesterday, the roads leading up to the cemetery off Jalan Dewan Bahasa was clogged up as early as 8am with families coming in droves to honour their ancestors.

Packed with visitors: A bumper-to-bumper jam on one of the roads at Kwong Tong Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur as families throng the cemetery for Qing Ming. Some came as early as 6am to avoid the crowd. — ART CHEN/The Star

While Qing Ming falls on April 4 officially, Wey said people started coming to pay respects to their ancestors two weekends ago, and he expected the visits to continue until next weekend.

Su Ching Pung, 43, who came with his family to visit the tombs of his paternal grandparents, said they did not spend much on hell notes.

“It’s the thought that counts,” he said, adding that they offered chicken, pork, fish, rice and fruits this time.

Ng Kok Peng, 38, from Setapak, braved the traffic to pay respects to his late parents and two younger cousins.

He said his family members, 15 in total, brought along paper offerings worth between RM300 and RM400 to be offered to the deceased.

The items included bungalows, cars, motorcycles, and gold and silver hampers.

Over at the Sinhalese Buddhist cemetery off Jalan Loke Yew, Indian Buddhists also turned up to honour their loved ones.

Unlike the Chinese, their offerings were simpler, mostly just incense sticks and flowers.

Mosque in Bangsar organises Chinese New Year open house

BY GAN PEI LING © The Star 5 Feb 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: A mosque in Bangsar has decided to celebrate the best of Malaysia’s diversity by throwing its doors open for a Chinese New Year celebration.

Expecting only 100 to 150 people to turn up for its do, the organisers were stumped to see at least 400 people arrive at the event which saw Muslims dining on the same table with their non-Muslim friends.

During the two-hour event held at a hall in the mosque, the people sampled Malaysian favourites such as rendangketupat and nasi minyak as well as mandarin oranges.

Many even turned up in traditional red, donning red batik shirts or red baju kurung.

The chairman of Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq, Datuk Ibrahim Thambychik, said he decided to hold the Chinese New Year open house to show that the mosque was an open place that welcomed everyone.

“If you look at the history of Islam, a mosque has many functions. Apart from prayers, it can also serve as a social centre for Mus­lims and non-Muslims,” he said.

Saying that this is the first time the mosque has organised a Chinese New Year celebration, Ibrahim said an open house was a good oppor­tunity for Muslims and non-Muslims from the neighbourhood to mingle and get to know each other better.

Getting together: Ibrahim handing out mandarin oranges during the open house at the Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq in Bangsar. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

Due to the good response from the community, he is planning to host it again next year.

Iman Ustaz Mohd Bukhai Hakah said they anticipated about 100 to 150 people but he estimated that at least 400 people turned up based on the amount of food served.

Datuk George Joseph, president of Bangsar Baru Residents Association, believed that it was the first time a mosque had organised a Chinese New Year celebration in the country.

A Chinese Muslim who attends weekly classes at the mosque, Mohd Willieuddin Lim, said most of his friends were surprised when he forwarded the mosque’s invitation: “Can ah? They asked me.”

Lim said he continued to celebrate the Lunar New Year after converting to Islam decades ago as it was not a religious but cultural occasion.

One of the guests, Collin Swee, 49, said it was a meaningful occasion for him.

“I think this is wonderful. It’s very needed right now as people of diffe­rent races and religions are growing further and further apart compared to the old days.

“This gesture by the mosque is very timely. We need more of these gestures to unite people,” said Swee.

Maizura Shamsuddin, who is prin­­­cipal assistant director at the Department of Federal Territory Islamic Affairs, said she was supportive of the event.

Former actress Shila Lama Abdul­lah, who also attended the event, said it was a great opportunity to foster goodwill among people of different races and religions.

Civil society keen to take part in ASEAN’s new FLEG plan

by Pei Ling Gan, 11 January 2017 © FLEGT.org

As the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member states implement a new ten-year plan to improve forest governance, civil society organisations (CSOs) in the region are keen to get involved.

Representatives of CSO from Southeast Asia discuss the new ASEAN Work Plan for FLEG by EU FLEGT Facility

The ASEAN Work Plan for Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (2016-2025) has four strategic thrusts:

  1. Enhancing sustainable forest management
  2. Enhancing trade facilitation, economic integration and market access
  3. Strengthening ASEAN’s joint approaches on regional and international issues affecting the forestry sector; and
  4. Institutional strengthening and human resources development.

The CSOs are interested having regular meetings with responsible government representatives and, ideally, joining country delegations to ASEAN working groups responsible for implementing the plan.

“We’re keen to track the implementation of the ASEAN commitments and activities at the national and regional level,” said To Kim Lien, from Center for Education and Development, Vietnam.

To is one of 25 participants from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia who attended a regional CSO meeting on forest law enforcement and governance in Southeast Asia on 5 December 2016, in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The EU FLEGT Facility hosted the meeting to assess interest in setting up a regional platform for CSOs working on FLEG-related topics in the region.

The ASEAN Senior Officials on Forestry (ASOF), which reports to the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry, is responsible for the overall supervision, coordination and implementation of the Work Plan.

ASOF will be supported by five working groups that meet at least once a year and focus, respectively, on forest management; CITES and wildlife enforcement; forest products development; social forestry; and forests and climate change.

Thang Hooi Chiew, an independent consultant, highlighted that some of these working groups could draw on the expertise of civil society organisations to implement the work plan.

He added that under the new work plan, activities could be implemented with the agreement of at least two ASEAN member states. Previously, activities could only be implemented with the consent from all member states.

The civil society representatives were keen to exchange information, knowledge, skills and resources related to independent monitoring, timber legality, and advocacy at the national and regional level, including on VPA processes.

“In Laos, CSOs have been invited by the government to participate in the VPA process but the complexity of the negotiation is difficult to follow, and the time commitment is high,” said Dr Chanthavy Vongkha, from the Lao Wildlife Conservation Association.

“We want to learn from neighbouring countries, how do their CSOs continue to participate in the process?” said Dr Chanthavy Vongkha.

His Indonesian colleague shared that capacity building is important while the Vietnamese also expressed their willingness to share their lessons.

“A few years ago the media and businesses were not that interested in the VPA because it was very technical,” said To. “We set up a team to go through the documents and translate it into public-friendly information. We can do the same for other countries. It’s important to make information available for different target groups.”

Southeast Asia marks progress in combating illegal timber trade

by Pei Ling Gan, 04 January 2017 © FLEGT.org

Representatives from eight member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) shared their achievements in developing reliable timber legality assurance systems at a workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia from 6-8 December 2016.

Participants share their achievements in developing reliable timber legality assurance systems by EU FLEGT Facility

Indonesia shared its success in becoming, in November, the world’s first country to issue FLEGT licences through a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU.

An open, transparent process and trust-building through dialogue were both crucial to the VPA’s multi-stakeholder approach, said Mardi Minangsari, of Indonesia’s Independent Forestry Monitoring Network, who has tracked the process as a civil society representative for 15 years.

Vietnam, meanwhile, is expected to sign its VPA with the EU in March 2017, having begun negotiations in 2010. The country is a major hub for the global timber trade, importing wood from more than 80 other countries for processing and re-export.

How to incorporate the legality of imported wood was “one of the most important topics that took up a lot of negotiation time,” said Huynh Van Hanh, standing vice-chair of the Handicraft and Wood Industry Association in Vietnam who gave a presentation on behalf of the Vietnamese delegation.

Thailand, another major timber importer and processor in the region, reported that it would begin field tests of its timber legality definition in 2017.

Banjong Wongsrisoontorn, Director of the Forest Certification Office in Thailand’s Royal Forest Department informed the workshop that Thailand had submitted its draft VPA annexes on legality definition, product scope and supply chain control to the EU in 2016.

Laos is also finalising its legality definition and is hoping to conclude VPA negotiations with the EU in 2018.

“The VPA process is complex,” said Dr Khamfeua Sirivongs, Head of the FLEGT Standing Office and Deputy Director of Forest Technique Standard Development Division, in the Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. “One of our main challenges would be to keep stakeholders in the private sector and civil society engaged.”

Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines are also taking steps to strengthen their national timber legality assurance systems.

Such a system has been in place in Peninsular Malaysia since 2013. In 2016, the Malaysian government introduced a legality requirement for timber products imported into Peninsular Malaysia from 3 January 2017.

While VPA negotiation has stalled in Malaysia since 2014, the Malaysian government recognised that “legality verification is necessary to meet current market demand, not just in the EU,” said Eleine Juliana Malek, Principal Assistant Secretary of the Timber, Tobacco and Kenaf Industries Development Division, at Malaysia’s Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

Myanmar, which is preparing for a VPA, is carrying out a gap analysis of its timber legality assurance system, which it developed in 2013.

“The analysis is being done to strengthen the Myanmar timber legality assurance system to meet international [legality] requirements,” said Phyo Zin Mon Naing, Assistant Director of Forest Department, at Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Cambodia is implementing recommendations from an independent timber trade flow study conducted in 2014, and is building its capacity to engage in a VPA process, said So Lorn, Deputy Director of the Department of Forest Industry and International Cooperation in Cambodia’s Forestry Administration.

tlas-workshop-flegt2Although the Philippines is not currently engaged in a VPA process, it is upgrading its timber legality assurance system to comply with the ASEAN Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management.

“What we have in the Philippines now is a ‘one-way traffic’: once the logs are processed into lumber we cannot trace it back to the forest of origin,” said Raul M Briz, chief of the Forest Protection Section in the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “We hope to achieve 100% ‘back to stump’ traceability for our wood production.”

He added that the new timber legality assurance system would be subjected to a nationwide multi-stakeholder consultation before it is implemented.

Fostering ASEAN cooperation

Thang Hooi Chiew, an independent consultant who conducted a study on the feasibility of a regional mechanism for mutual recognition of timber legality, reported that it is highly feasible to develop an ASEAN Timber Legality Verification Scheme.

He said such a scheme could be based on the ASEAN Criteria and Indicators for Legality of Timber, which would need to be reviewed and revised against global standards.

However, he said “it is best that a phased approach be adopted,” as ASEAN member states are at varying stages of developing timber legality systems and certification schemes.

Thang also recommended assessing the capacity of existing and potential certification bodies to carry out training on forest management and chain-of-custody certification, and strengthening regional customs cooperation to facilitate legal timber trade in the region.

Representatives from the ASEAN secretariat and EU FAO FLEGT programme also shared potential collaboration opportunities at the regional level.

Earlier in 2016, the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry officially adopted the Work Plan for Forest Governance in ASEAN (2016-2025).

Dian Sukmajaya, a senior officer from the ASEAN secretariat, said plans are now being made to develop a regional framework for mutual recognition of timber legality, and help small and medium forest enterprises to meet international trade requirements, among others.

“We also hope to encourage private sector to market forest products from legal sources,” Sukmajaya added, noting that more must be done to raise consumer awareness in the region.

tlas-workshop-flegt3

Meanwhile, the EU FAO FLEGT Programme is exploring potential synergies between timber legality assurance systems and forest certification schemes.

The programme’s regional coordinator Bruno Cammaert suggested that recognition between timber legality assurance systems and certification could reduce the burden on operators and enhance verification, monitoring and complaints mechanisms.

Other topics discussed during the workshop include civil society’s role in developing timber legality assurance systems, the empowerment of small and medium forest enterprises, and control of imports into ASEAN countries.

About 80 participants from governments, private sector, civil society and observers from the EU delegations in the region attended this fifth sub-regional training workshop on timber legality assurance systems.

It was co-organised by the ASEAN Secretariat, the EU FLEGT Facility hosted by the European Forest Institute, and Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, with support from GIZ.