Earlier this month Sabah’s Forestry director Sam Mannan announced that 100,000 hectares of land in Southern Sabah have been placed under palm oil cultivation in order to generate revenue to conserve an adjacent forest of over 10 times that size.
The Malaysian palm oil industry has always maintained that development and conservation can and will continue side by side. This is why for every one hectare of oil palm plantations, Malaysia is preserving 4 hectares.
In fact, the history of development teaches us that the most expedient way for a country to move towards even greater ecological preservation is through economic growth and delivering suitable standards of living to its people. This is what today’s industrialized countries have done and this is the course that Malaysia is pursuing while continuing to preserve 50 per cent of its forest cover.
Recent developments in Sabah should be seen as further evidence of the pragmatic efforts that are being made to preserve large swathes of forested land by creating prosperity through oil palm cultivation.
Past conservation efforts that relied on establishing protected areas of forests without considering how to fund them have proven to be both shortsighted and ineffective. Instead, amid attacks from environmental groups, the palm oil industry has proven to be among the most active supporters of forest conservation as in the case of the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF).
Plantation development and forest conservation must continue side-by-side and past memories. Failures of unrealistic and unsustainable forest conservation projects should not stand in the way of allowing the palm oil industry to lend a helping hand.