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Joint Opinion Editorial - Conserving Forests Through Innovative Collaborations

Conserving Forests Through Innovative Collaborations
Maliau Basin © Lee Shan Kee / WWF-Malaysia
~ Conserving and regenerating Malaysian forests through innovative collaborations between WWF-Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS),  Malaysian Timber Association (MTA) and Government agencies ~
As the global human population continues to grow, so does the demand for wood products. These products significantly contribute to Malaysia’s economy, amounting to RM21.844 billion in export earnings in 2023. The challenge that we face now is balancing the economic, social, and ecological values of our forests. On the one hand, wood is a renewable resource that can help meet the increasing demand for building materials and various products. On the other hand, climate change and biodiversity loss necessitates coordinated efforts to ensure that our forests are protected, managed, and utilised in the most equitable manner.

One significant way the timber industry is making a positive impact on the environment is through strict adherence to sustainable forestry practices. Sustainable forestry emphasises the responsible management of forests, ensuring that timber harvesting is balanced with conservation efforts. This includes practices such as selective logging, where only a few mature trees are harvested once in a lengthy rotational system, keeping a majority of the remaining trees standing, and leaving younger trees to regenerate. Additionally, sustainable forestry incorporates measures to protect wildlife habitats, water sources, and soil integrity, thereby preserving the overall ecological balance.

Malaysia has a comprehensive National Forestry Policy  focused on achieving environmental sustainability. This commitment includes having half of the country under forest cover, in which 20% are Totally Protected Areas and 30% are allocated for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM). Managing these areas requires innovative approaches and integrated conservation frameworks. The Central Forest Spine (CFS) Master Plan in Peninsular Malaysia and the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative in Sabah and Sarawak play vital roles in maintaining large forest areas, promoting connectivity, and restoring habitats for wildlife like Malayan tigers, Bornean elephants and orangutans. Forests in the CFS and the HoB are also important water catchment areas, providing ecosystem services such as supplying  water to downstream communities and acting as carbon sinks to absorb carbon dioxide and provide clean air. 

Forestry operations take place within forest complexes where conservation and protection measures are crucial to safeguard key ecosystem services. Sustainable best practices can be undertaken by embarking on certification or other improved forest management activities. At the same time, there may be degraded areas within forest complexes where their ecosystem services can be enhanced via forest restoration.

In observation of the International Day of Forests on 21 March 2024, WWF-Malaysia and Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) are working with the Malaysian Timber Association (MTA) and Government agencies to underline the critical need for sustainable forestry practices. In line with this year’s  theme of “Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World", the parties have come together for the first time to focus on actionable strategies and adoption of best practices to conserve Malaysia’s multi-functional forests.

Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) elements have been embedded into existing SFM practices in Malaysia - to ensure that forests and biodiversity, as well as climate change matters, are addressed. MTA considers ESG an issue of significance and has formulated a framework for the whole supply chain to emphasise the need for transparency, traceability and sustainability. The forest management practices and efforts in Malaysia have received international acknowledgement, signifying recognition of the country's commitment to sustainably managing its forest.

Meanwhile, WWF-Malaysia has pioneered the Living Landscape Approach (LLA), which combines both conservation and sustainable development through three pillars: Protect (protection of forests, wildlife and watershed); Produce (production of sustainable palm oil and timber); and Restore (restoration of degraded habitats and ecological corridors). The LLA is an innovative approach that brings together market instruments and practical solutions to reconcile the different interests among various stakeholders. It is now being adapted to support conservation work across the tiger landscape spanning from Perak to Pahang, through Kelantan.

MNS, on the other hand, endeavours to monitor and liaise with sister organisations and Indigenous People and Local Communities when anthropogenic activities take place within and near forested areas. MNS has spent over 80 years lending a voice to the voiceless, especially concerning the wildlife and people who are deeply interconnected to the forest and its diverse habitats. In the sphere of public outreach and education, MNS is pushing forward with its major project of forest connectivity, coined as Rantaian Urban Green Spaces (RUGS). RUGS aims to reconnect the various remaining green spaces found within Klang Valley, while fostering ties between the communities and local stakeholders. RUGS may serve as the prototype for enhancing urban forest connectivity, while ensuring the conservation of Malaysia’s rich natural heritage of flora and fauna.

The collaboration between WWF-Malaysia, MNS, MTA and Government agencies shows a commitment to protect and manage our forests. However, enabling conditions need to be created so that every stakeholder can deliver win-win solutions. Innovations like forest carbon stock mapping can aid in monitoring threats like deforestation, leading to improved forest governance, better coordination between federal and state authorities, and more effective restoration projects.
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)
Malaysian Timber Association (MTA)
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About WWF-Malaysia:
Established in 1972, WWF-Malaysia is part of WWF, the international conservation organisation. Working to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, WWF-Malaysia’s efforts to conserve nature focus on six major goals - forests, oceans, wildlife, food, climate and energy, as well as freshwater – and three key drivers of environmental problems – markets, finance and governance. Their mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.
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About Malaysian Timber Association (MTA)
In 1991, four (4) timber associations grouped together and formed the Malaysian Timber Organisation (MTO) in Sabah.  The Association went through a major restructuring exercise with its name changed from MTO to the Malaysian Timber Association (MTA) in 2000.  The current membership comprised six (6) timber associations from Peninsular Malaysia, two (2) from Sabah and one (1) from Sarawak.  Members work closely together and carry out regular meetings to share knowledge, discuss and update each other on matters related to forestry and timber industry as well as timber trade related matters.

About Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) 
The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) is the oldest environmental NGO in Malaysia, playing a vital and active role in the appreciation and conservation of our natural heritage for over 80 years.

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