Monday, April 15, 2013

Rampant agribusiness malpractices- Part 4-2: Rape of Lojing Highlands (end)

Figure 1 : A massive logging and land clearing project in Lojing (see Flickr )

A massive logging and land clearing project in Lojing, Kelantan State

Figure 1 is a picture of the Lojing Highlands. A lot of change are taking place in this atrea which have significant impacts on agribusiness and economic growth. Ten years ago these vegetable and flower farms were not all there (see “Syeds out of the box”).

Find here a video of the aerial view of Lojing settlement in Gua Musang with forest clearing going on “You Tube”.

The question that is being asked by Malaysian environment activists is why Kelantan is still clearing hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest with almost total disregard to the grave impacts on the human beings and wildlife that depend on these forests? Replacing forest with LCTs is destroying biodiversity (see “Rubber Forests”).

As explained before: land, forestry, agriculture and rivers are State matters. Therefore the Federal Government cannot do much but provide advice. 

But clearly, all this “advice” is useless and Kelantan has flouted almost every single well-intentioned key policy made at the Federal level as explained before. 

This clearing is taking place possibly without EIA as alleged by BN/UMNO. 

The allegation, however, is made where this same political party may still have endorsed this project when it was in power in Kelantan and has not been exemplary while regulating Cameron Highlands.  

This might be highlighted by BN / UMNO as an electoral argument in the run-up for the 13th general elections, now scheduled for next month. 

Certainly the political context leaves environmentalists in a dilemma. But what really happens in Lojing is really destructive to the environment and a much larger scale than what has been done at Cameron. 

This happens 1,000 m above sea level, where the clearance is supposed to be illegal in the first place.

The death of Sungai Betatop and Sungai Legid

Sungai Betatop
(see The Star)

Orang Asli Seng Sang village is the nearest to Lojing Highlands. The river, the Sungai Belatop, flowing from the mountain is the main source of water for residents here.

The villagers in Seng Sang village lived peacefully while using the resources provided by nature that surrounds them.

Figure 2 : Sungai Belatop next to the orang asli Seng Sang village

The river suddenly took a muddy color while the jungle, where they used to hunt and collect forest products, had become barren. All the valuable timber in the area was logged. The developers were going to set up a vegetable farm that would not even belong to them.

Villagers said the state government did not appear to be concerned about their welfare and did not look into their problems. 

Making matters worse, they faced a new dilemma when it refused to grant them their land titles. 

The state government, sometime ago, had promised to bestow to the villagers  the grants to their land and houses, but reneged on this without any apparent reason.

Without the grants, it means that houses built in this village can be seized by the state government at anytime.

Sungai Legid
(see “Rubber Forests”)

Sungai Legid died during the Christmas of 2011, the villagers have had to make daily treks further into the Perias Forest Reserve to collect clean water for drinking. 

Bathing and washing has had to be done in the Sungai Betis, a river originating from Lojing highlands. The water in Sungai Betis is looking like teh tarik, due to the vast, uncontrolled land clearing that is ongoing in the mountains. 

But (see Figure 3) have you ever seen a stream so completely damaged that it holds nothing other than logs and debris; that its once picturesque waterfalls, pools and eddies now resemble a quarry site; that its water sees no option other than to hide underground, only to be tainted blood red by iron oxides in the soil when it reappears to meet the sky again?

Figure 3:  This place in Sungai Legid used to be a water fall (see "Rubber Forest")

Anyway, after laying low for a few months, the logging contractors are back at it again.

Even though the village headman had told them on no uncertain terms that he would not allow them to resume clear-felling the hill (which, by the way contains the only patch of rainforest left in the area), the chainsaws, logging trucks and bulldozers have returned to Bukit Sanyer in full force.

Make no mistake: there is nothing “illegal” about this logging. It’s actually “clear-felling” – every single tree is to be taken out and replaced with oil palm.

This is a state-sanctioned activity by government-appointed contractors facilitated by the Kelantan Forestry Department.

Rampant agribusiness malpractices- Part 4-1: Rape of Lojing Highlands

Figure 1 : Vegetable farms at Lojing Highlands (see The Star)

Where is Lojing?

In the Southeastern part of Kelantan, at the foot of the Central Titiwangsa Range, Lojing Highllands are the continuation of Cameron Highlands laying 12km up north.  Located over 1,000 m above sea level, Lojing’s climate is very similar to Cameron’s one.

Lojing  is more than twice bigger than Cameron with an area of 1,817 km2 and a very scarce population: 5,613 in 2010 on which mostly 4,113 Orang Asli .  So the Lojing’s human density is around 3/Km2, much smaller than Cameron Highlands’ density 52/km2.

While Pahang is purely a BN/UMNO stronghold, Kelantan has been PKR/PAS ruled during two long periods: 1959-1977 (18 years) and more recently 1990-2013 (23 years) until the coming up to the 13th General Election, with a gap period 1978-1990 (12 years) of BN/UMNO’s ruling.

Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat PAS President won a seat in the Kelantan State Assembly in the 1986 general elections. In 1990, PAS managed to wrest control of Kelantan back from BN/UMNO, Nik Aziz became Menteri Besar (MB) of Kelantan. After 23 years in the office, Nik Aziz, 82 years old, is certainly one of the longest serving MB in the country.

Lojing Highlands was opened up under the South Kelantan Development Authority (KESEDAR) in 1978. The area was first logged out with its usual amount of controversy involving the ruling BN/UMNO government (see "Syeds outside the box").

After 1990, big swathes of land were given away to PAS state government linked companies as well as friendly parties (see Figure 1 above).Vast tracts of pristine highlands forests at elevations ranging from 500m – 1500m were being cleared to make way for agriculture.

Forest & Land regulations: many loopholes to flout the rules and no enforcement

Financial provisions in Malaysia are heavily in favor of the Federal Government. State Governments are afforded a very limited revenue base, but Forestry under National Forest Policy Act is a state matter: State Governments have complete jurisdiction over their respective forest, land and water resources.

As a result revenue from land and forests is the main solutions at hand for State Government badly needing money such as Kelantan, and there will be a significant potential loss of revenue for the State when any area of the Permanent Forest Estate (PRE) is gazetted as Protective Forest as explained hereafter.

The PFE following the National Forestry Act should be demarcated and managed under four major functions: (a) Permanent Reserved Forest (PRF) for climatic or water resources  ; (b) State land forest for production of timber; (c) National Parks  and (d) Wildlife and bird sanctuary.

But forests in the Highlands are almost invariably not demarcated on the ground, not afforded legal protection through gazettement other than Permanent Reserve Forest (PRF).

Permanent Forest Reserves might be classified as Rank 2 Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) where only sustainable logging (no conversion to agriculture or plantations) is allowed, but this could be easily flouted by the state.

Kelantan has untill now failed to gazette as “Protection Forest” (and continues to cut down) many areas within its PRF that have conservation importance such as water catchments, as spelt out in the National Forest Policy.

National Forestry Council is issuing “key policies” that should be implemented nationally. As an example of such advices: no logging should be carried out in forests at an elevation of 1,000m above sea level and above. But will no obligation for the state to obey as we can see later.

Enforcement is difficult due to poor resources. In the Department of Wildlife and National Park (PERHILITAN), one officer only was assigned by 2002 to Cameron’s Montane areas on a permanent basis (see WWF report onPeninsular Malaysia Highlands 2002).

Furthermore Cameron- Lojing- Kinta Highlands Special Management Area (484 km2) had been proposed (see ibid.) encompassing most of the settlement within Cameron Highlands, Lojing in Kelantan, and Kinta Highlands in Perak.

Existing forest in the SMA in 2002 were constituting 40.3% of the area; steep lands with slope > 25° constitute 25.2% of the area. No land important either due to biodiversity or due to landslide or erosion hazard should be alienated for development purposes.

The Developer doing application for State land should be required to submit all the necessary Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) as deemed necessary before an approval is given.

But as explained in my post dated 5 April: EIAs approved in Lojing and Gua Musang over the years, being of dubious quality should not have been approved in the first place. Developers had carried out projects without submitting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports while most are just failed to follow its mitigation plans.

Is PAS Kelantan alienating or granting lands rights in Lojing to gain political leverage?

Until today only Kelantan born people are allowed to own land in Kelantan. This difference from  all other states in Malaysia is certainely one of the reasons for Kelantan poor economic results.

Some party have asked Nik Aziz to disclose land deals that his PAS-led Kelantan government had done with a company that has been alleged to have shares owned by some PKR/DAP members in Perak  closely associated with PAS in PKR Coalition (see "Lim Kit Siang blog") . 

The land deals were alleged to involve around 4,000ha of a Malay reserved land located in the Lojing Highlands.

Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is investigating the Kelantan government's joint-venture rubber and oil palm estate project with the company in which these PKR/DAP members in Perak  - including the DAP Chairman-  were accused to have stakes.

A source said investigations are looking into ascertaining on whether there were elements of irregularities or inducement in the deal.

Perak DAP chairman had insisted that his stake in a massive Kelantan land project was not a “reward” for accepting to turn down the MB’s post after the 2008 general election for a PKR/PAS Muslim member.

Kelantan is trying to duplicate but unsuccessfully Cameron Highlands

As seen in our post dated 5th of April, the vegetable farmers from nearby Cameron Highlands due to the end of new TOL allowances and farmed area restrained to 3,300 ha might have helped trigger the quest for land in the Lojing Highlands and through ‘joint ventures’ (see SustainableAgriculture in the Cameron Highlands BARROW, C.J.1 and al. 2009).

Due to weaker enforcement of clearance restrictions in Lojing Highlands, over 25,000 ha have been cleared since 1990, much by those who hold land in the Cameron Highlands (see ibid.).

The Kelantan government thought that they could easily replicate Cameron Highlands’ agribusiness success.

Cameron had a total 3,300 ha in farming land and they believed that if the government could set in production 10 times more area, so there would be proportionally 10 times more economic benefits.

They forgot something very important. The farmers in Cameron Highlands – mostly Chinese and Indian families- have had 50 years of farming experience in the highlands. They are individual farmers practicing intensive farming and in small farm, averaging 1- 3 hectares. 

No sane person being compulsory Kelantan born citizen could open up thousands of hectares in the highlands to do intensive farming as the one practiced in Cameron (see "Planet of the Monyets").

Sadly in the Lojing Highlands, because there are clear uncontaminated land and clean water supplies, Organic produces could have proved to be a good business model with an expanding domestic and export market. Unfortunately, clearances in the Lojing Highlands and through Orang Asli ‘joint-ventures’ jeopardize such hopes.

The sheer scale of the forest destruction in Kelantan is awesome

There are many reasons why ecological activists are picking on Kelantan as a bad example (Rubber Forest). 

The sheer scale of the destruction is the first reason. No other state in Peninsular Malaysia can match Kelantan for scale of deforestation, especially in recent years.

The rate of deforestation in Kelantan is likely to be around 4% per year, four times higher than the average deforestation rate for Malaysia (around 1%per year for the period between 2000 and 2010). Here’s what we know for sure:

Based on the Kelantan Forestry Department’s (see Figure 2), as of 2011, 199,000ha of the total 623,000ha (32%) of Permanent Reserved Forests (PRF) in Kelantan were zoned for Latex Timber Clone (LTC) plantations. 

This is 1,990 km2 which almost three times the size of Singapore!

While already quite substantial, the 199,000ha doesn’t include forests that are being converted to oil palm plantations. Based on EIA reports, another 26,581ha of the state’s PRFs were approved for conversion to oil palm plantations by 2008-2010 .

And that still doesn’t include the enormous area that is being cleared for farms in the Lojing highlands, where 25,436ha (almost 80 percent of the Lojing highlands) has been earmarked for development.

Figure 2: Plantation zones in Kelantan (see Rubber Forest). 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Rampant agribusiness malpractices- Part 3: Destruction of Cameron Highlands

Figure 1: Forest clearing in Sg Mensun , Cameron Highlands (see in The Star)  

Rampant forest clearing over the past two decades have been carried out by farmers who either are cheating regulations or taking advantage of poor law enforcement. 

Cameron Highlands hill farms are supplying more than 60% of Malaysian vegetable and fruits needs while generating in addition sizable foreign earnings around 200 mil MYR, Singapore being a key market.

There should be about 2,800 farms by the end of the 2010s occupying an area around 3,300 ha on which 2,600 ha of vegetables (roughlly half cabbages) and 700 flowers (Barrow C.J. & al.). 

But these farmers are committing crimes against the environment and the rich biodiversity in uphill Pahang and Kelantan. Land clearing on hill slopes with a gradient above 30 degree is making landslides and soil erosion current hazards in surrounding water catchments stream and groundwater. 

Cameron Highlands is already packed with ugly and poorly regulated agribusinesses and as a result a steady destruction of its rich bio capacity is going on unrestricted. Low lands in Malaysia are heavily disturbed, so upland forests like those of the Cameron Highlands are an important refuge for biodiversity.

Loging forest in Gua Musang while trying to emulate the growth of Cameron Highlands is less advanced in the process. But as far as converted forest are concerned it looks that enforcement and restrictions are much weaker. The limitation of agribusiness in Cameron Highlands is moving farmers into Lojing Highlands.

The two states are politically opposed. Pahang and Kelantan- both rural areas- are respectively strong hold of BN/UNMO and PKR/PAS. In the run-up to the 13th general election coming soon, each party is trying to single out the blatant malpractices of the other party: forest destructions and clean waters are becoming more and more political sensitive issues.

The good news is that Malaysian awareness as concerns the environment conservation is increasing with the nation development.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Developers had carried out projects without submitting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports while most are just failed to follow its mitigation plans.

Environmental activists think that EIAs approved in Lojing and Gua Musang over the years, being of dubious quality should not have been approved in the first place.

Based on the Executive Summaries of EIA reports for conversion of forest to plantations in Gua Musang/Lojing approved by DOE Kelantan in the past five years (these summaries are available on DOE’s website), some questions are arising:

The bulk of these EIA reports are done by a small number of EIA consulting firms specialized in churning out EIAs for deforestation.

These firms are emanating or depending from the State and many of these EIA Executive Summaries are cut-and-paste jobs with a political bias.

Some of the findings and recommendations outlined in these summaries are just plain dumb.

Temporary Occupation License

Normally land are leased for 5-15 years period on a special tenure called Temporary Occupation License (TOL) . 

Poor soil and water conservation could lead to non renewal of a TOL, but this has been seldom enforced (see 
BarrowC.J. & al.).

The issuance of new TOL had been frozen for land cultivation in Cameron Highlands. But the Federation of Malaysian Vegetable growers said that because there was no chance for new farmer to apply : "So, some take the risk to make a living".

The Sultan of Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah said it was not just farmers from Pahang who were guilty of irresponsible land clearing in Cameron Highlands, but outsiders as well.

After 2002 the allocation of new TOLs  have been substantially restrained in Cameron Highlands.
However, greater use of fertilizer, manure and sprinkler irrigation and an expansion of farming because TOL restrictions have being side-stepped are likely to mean more nutrient enrichment of streams and groundwater.

Those using excessive agrichemicals and manure and paying limited attention to soil and water conservation have considerable off-farm impact. Organic farming is especially vulnerable, as are river fisheries and irrigated farming in lowlands. It might be hoped that inefficient farmers would release TOLs for others to try more productive and perhaps sustainable and environmentally sound use of already cleared land. 

The law enforcement is very poor

Land has been cleared at a horrifying rate in an area in Sungai Mensun a small tributary of Sungai Bertam, where ditch erosion is already visible, tons of soil have been washed down into the waiting river down the slope (see in The Star)

Forest clearing without TOL or IAE is an irreversible process which should be severely punished by confiscation of equipment, imprisonment or huge fines. But it seems all this had been tacitly accepted and the lenient outcome is to let the farms going on.

Nobody seems to be particularly concerned at the official level! 

Fortunately some local organizations- such as REACH- had been formed and carry out grassroots actions that meet a large echo locally. REACH aims to preserve, restore and maintain Cameron Highlands as an environmentally sustainable agriculture and hill resort within a permanent nature reserve.

Examples of farming malpractices highlighted by REACH

Fertilizers and pesticides flow into the waterways 

Local farmers resort to copious amounts of manure and synthetic fertilizers and rely on indiscriminately and excessively on pesticides (see in The Star).

With rain and irrigation, all these fertilizers and pesticides flow into the waterways and get deposited in sediment. Toxic and illegal pesticidesTwo toxic and illegal pesticides known to cause serious health problems to humans are poisoning Cameron Highland's major rivers.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) researchers who conducted numerous tests found concentrations of the banned pesticides DDT and lindane in Sungai Bertam and Sungai Telom.

The United States' Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had classified the pesticides as a probable human carcinogen.Both DDT and lindane have been completely banned in Malaysia. 

They are among the list of toxic chemicals identified in the Stockholm Convention of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which Malaysia signed in 2002 but has yet to be ratified.

Foul water

A group of farmer had their water supply polluted by illegal clearing by another farmer. Outraged, the affected farmers have lodged two police reports against the errant farmer (see in The Star).

Land Office enforcement officers have since ordered the land clearing to stop. But a site visit showed that workers were still busy preparing the cleared land at the top of the hill for agricultural cultivation.

Fish start to die in the river feeding a major water treatment reservoir

On the 28th of February 2012, fishes were found floating in Sungai Terla by the hundreds. Sungai Terla is the river feeding the reservoir at Sg.Terla water treatment plant supplying treated water to more than two thirds of Cameron Highlands.

Contamination of Sg Terla water treatment plant will continue to be a problem and probably escalate in severity so long as the root cause has not been removed .ie presence of farms and settlements in the water catchment areas. In line with the general practice of watershed management for the purpose of drinking water supply, there should not be any forms of human habitation within the Sg. Terla watershed.

Figure 2 : A farmer filling a glass of water at his tap

Is it possible to remedy the situation of Cameron Highlands?

(see: Sustainable Agriculture in the Cameron Highlands, BARROW, C.J and al. 2009)

Figure 3:  Hydroponic agribusiness in Cameron Highlalnds (see in Righway Round) 

In the past the focus of authorities and farmers has generally been on intensification, rather than soil or water conservation, and control of the pollutions. 

Soil erosion and irrigation control

Sprinkler irrigation and plastic rain shelters are adopted to improve yields and crop quality and allow diversification, rather than control erosion. It is likely that shelters can also reduce erosion from plots, but caution is needed to prevent the intercepted rain from causing gullying or sheet wash off-plot.

Land which is not disturbed often develops a crust of algae, mosses, lichens and micro-organisms, which almost certainly reduces erosion and might lock up some of the excess nutrients from fertilizers and manure. There has been research elsewhere on such crusts. If there are benefits in tropical highlands farmers could be encouraged to establish crusts.

Drip irrigation uses far less water and fertilizer than sprinkler irrigation and can cut evapo- transpiration losses and runoff erosion. However, it may lead to accumulation of salts and other contaminants in plots. More research is needed to check the value of drip irrigation in reducing groundwater and stream pollution.

MARDI Station in Tanah Rata has demonstration plots showing drip irrigation, hydroponics and catch-drains and a few farms now use such techniques.

Off-farm controls will also be needed to trap sediment that reaches streams. Constructing reed or water hyacinth beds and diverting streams through them could achieve this. The trapped sediment could be used to renew plots and the reeds composted or burnt for power generation.

Fertilizers and pesticides

Farmers are pressured to reduce agrichemical use, but much less attention has been given to controlling over-generous application of chicken-manure which is now more prevalent than chemical fertilizer usage.

The authorities have been trying to control pesticide usage for decades, but large numbers of growers were recently reported to be using banned compounds imported from Thailand and other countries. Unfortunately, illegal agrichemicals are cheaper and seen by farmers to be more effective.

Organic farming

Organic produce is an expanding domestic and export market. Studies suggest the organic farmers get roughly 50% better prices, but have lower yields than non-organic. Learning compost making and getting suitable raw materials like organic chicken-manure are key elements of successful organic growing.

But nowhere in Cameron Highlands all who are interested in organic farming could convert, because agrichemicals drift from other farms contaminate streams and groundwater needed for irrigation. 

Ironically, organic growers are amongst those making biodiversity damaging clearances in the Lojing Highlands, probably because they can clear uncontaminated land with clean water supplies.