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Malaysia ready to stop expanding oil palm plantation

KOTA KINABALU -- The government of Malaysia's Sabah State is ready to stop the clearing of forests for new plantations for palm oil in the near future even though global demand for the oil is growing, a minister of the state told Kyodo News on Tuesday.

Masidi Manjun, tourism, culture and environment minister of Sabah State, said, ''We are ready to say 'no' to further expansion of the plantation,'' as the state is committed to conservation of the forests as well as wildlife there.

Although the state is committed to sustainable forest management, in which it tries to balance economic growth and environmental protection, indiscriminate logging is no longer a choice in a land so rich in biodiversity, he said after a press conference with journalists attending a workshop on sustainable forest management.

The threeday workshop is being hosted by the Organization of AsiaPacific News Agencies.

Malaysia is the world's largest palm oil producer. Together with its neighbor Indonesia, the country is rushing to increase production of palm oil amid rising demand for biofuels, the use of which is believed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

But wildlife conservation groups have claimed that native species such as the orang utan and Sumatra rhinos are threatened by the clearing of forests for the development of the plantations. 

Malaysia and Indonesia produce nearly 90 percent of the world's palm oil output.

Palm oil has traditionally been used in food such as cooking oil or in soap.

In order to meet both demands for more oil output and for protecting wildlife, the state's strategy is to boost productivity at existing plantations, rather than developing new plantations, Masidi said.

The strategy has yet to be implemented, however, as the government is still in the process of researching how to boost production, he said.

Sabah has designated the Ulu Segama and Malua forest reserves on the east coast of the state on Borneo Island which covers an area of about 240,000 hectors for an orang utan conservation program, he said, dismissing claims from the conservationists.

''We don't kill orang utans as the creatures are a very important component of our tourism industry. Killing the orang utan is tantamount to killing our tourism industry,'' Masidi said.

There might be some incidents of orang utans being killed by poachers, but there are a number of animals remaining there, he said.

But some of the local conservationists said the government is lax in its controls and illegal logging is still going on.

On Monday, a local newspaper reported that in an antilogging operation that began Friday in Sabah, authorities seized 20 trucks with 1,000 round logs believed to have been illegally cut down.

Without confirming the report, Masidi admitted such incidents could happen from time to time.

''Yes, there is a weakness in our system, but we think it is a manageable problem and we are making efforts,'' he said.//Kyodo news



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