Monday, April 15, 2013

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).