Claim- Reuters ran a news piece with the headline “Plantations seen behind more than half Malaysian Borneo deforestation”. The story is based on a paper by CIFOR researchers.

Truth:

The story implies that Malaysia is an environmental bad-guy, and that plantations are the culprit.

But here are the facts. The dramatic headline is not in any way justified when you examine the actual data from the research.

The study looks at deforestation in Borneo between 1973 and 2015.

In Malaysian Borneo in 1973, total forest area was 15.1 million ha – a full two-thirds of the land area. In the study period – more than 40 years — 4.2 million ha was cleared; 2.7 million ha of this forest area was for plantations. In other words, just 18 per cent of the original forest area has made way for plantations over a long period of time. (Consider that Australia has lost 3.8 million ha of forest area since 1990 alone).

According to the author’s data, more than half of Malaysian Borneo is still forested: illustrating that a substantial commitment to forest protection is in place. The population in Malaysian Borneo has more than tripled in the same period, and plantations in Borneo have been a vital source of economic growth for Malaysia’s economy. Around 35 per cent of Malaysia’s palm oil area is cultivated by small farmers, reducing poverty and improving life chances.

Reporting data findings such as these is important for informed debate. Sensationalist headlines from Reuters journalists are irresponsible and contribute nothing to that debate.