WWF-Malaysia supports Kedah Councillor's Call for Logging Ban in Ulu Muda
Ulu Muda spans an area of 163,000ha and is the most important water catchment for Kedah, Penang, and Perlis as Sungai Muda and Sungai Kedah originate from this forest. These major rivers supply water for domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural use, including 80% of Penang’s and 96% of Kedah’s treated water. In particular, the water-intensive industrial hubs of Kulim High Tech Park in Kedah and the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone in Penang, together with a thriving hospitality industry, are extremely dependent on these sources of water.
However, the largest user of water is the agricultural industry, as more than 80% of the water provided by Ulu Muda is used to irrigate the sprawling paddy fields under the Muda Agricultural Scheme. This scheme produces more than 45% of the nation’s rice supply, thus contributing heavily to the nation’s food security (Crop Statistics, Department of Agriculture, 2017) and sustaining the livelihood of more than 50,000 farmers. In a nutshell, Ulu Muda is a lifeline for not just Kedah’s and Penang’s economy but also for our nation’s rice bowl. Therefore, it is essential for Ulu Muda to be managed as a watershed forest.
Several conservation NGOs, including WWF-Malaysia, have continuously expressed concerns on logging activities in the area and their adverse environmental and social implications at the state and national levels. As such, WWF-Malaysia applauds YB Tan’s acknowledgement of logging in Ulu Muda as potentially compromising water security and causing financial loss to the state of Kedah and the country. It is important that Ulu Muda is totally conserved and a total ban on logging and land use changes is imposed, as Ulu Muda is an important water catchment forest. Finding an alternative to logging as a revenue source will definitely help the protection of Ulu Muda, as the logging sector in general provides revenue for many state governments in Malaysia, including Kedah.
Recognising this, WWF-Malaysia has continuously engaged the state government of Kedah since 2015 to find alternative revenue sources, amongst them through the Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) and low-impact ecotourism. In the course of this engagement, the provisioning of water was identified as one of the most valuable ecosystem services provided by Ulu Muda. Additionally, a federal incentive package to state governments to keep their forests intact would help justify a logging ban in Ulu Muda and other water catchment forests in Malaysia. Therefore, YB Tan’s view that the federal government substitutes the state’s income from logging is timely and very much welcomed by WWF-Malaysia.
Prioritising Mother Nature does not come at the expense of our economic well-being. In fact, insufficient water can result in huge losses for investors, such as in the case of Selangor in 2014. During this water crisis, it was reported that the industrial sector suffered millions of ringgit in losses, and up to 821 projects were put on hold. The Ministry of Energy, Green Technology, and Water reported that the water rationing exercise from March to May that year had affected food, drinks, rubber, chemicals, electric and tourism industries. Major brands such as Nestle reportedly lost RM15 million in a day, while Monin Asia KL Sdn Bhd reported a RM11.2 million loss in a month, and Panasonic had to cancel an order of RM40 million (The Sun Daily, 2014).
It is very clear that many parties will reap the benefits of totally protecting water catchment forests. Accordingly, the economic benefits generated by Ulu Muda’s ecosystem services need to be assessed scientifically and valued as natural capital of the Northern Corridor Economic Region. WWF-Malaysia calls on the Federal government to assist the state government to value the total economic contribution of the Ulu Muda forests to Penang’s, Kedah’s and the wider national economy as well as to food security. In conducting this valuation, other ecosystem services such as soil protection, flood mitigation and carbon sequestration also need to be taken into account.
Most importantly, workable sustainable financing mechanisms need to be identified and implemented to ensure that the state government is able to offset potential revenue loss from conserving the forests as water catchment forests. Therefore, WWF-Malaysia recommends that a committee comprising of state and federal agencies, academicians and conservation NGOs is established to help in the process of assessing the ecosystem services and finding workable solutions. Such a process could serve as a model for other states.
The Chief Minister of Kedah, YAB Dato’ Seri Haji Mukhriz Mahathir once said, “To me, a tree is worth more standing than felled,” (Bernama, 18 May 2013) – this gives us hope that the Kedah state government will recognise the importance of water catchment forests like Ulu Muda and protect it for the benefit of our nation. Protecting our forests to ensure water security is vital in order to attract, sustain and retain long-term investments in Malaysia. It is therefore imperative for all parties – especially for the state and federal governments – to work together to protect the nations’ water catchments such as Ulu Muda.
WWF-Malaysia looks forward to support this partnership as together, everything is possible.
Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma
Executive Director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia
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