Malaysia: Sabah forestry department on illegal palm oil plantations

Sabah, a state in the Malaysian part of Borneo, is renowned for its
biodiversity, including a wealth of rare and endangered species like
pygmy elephants, Borneo rhino, and orangutans. Sabah Forestry
Department said that more than 30 percent of Mt. Pock And Tanjong
Nagos Forest Reserves were “plundered” by “people with means to plant
illegal oil palm including companies” up until 2001. The statement is
noteworthy in that leaders of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, the
marketing and lobbying arm of the Malaysian palm oil industry, have
maintained that oil expansion has not taken place at the expense of
natural forest in Malaysia.

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The Forestry Department statement noted that oil palm companies spent
million of ringgit “to develop the illegal oil palm including the
recruitment of illegal workers to destroy forests and intimidate
Forestry Department staff on the ground.” It said that 202 people were
arrested in the reserves between 2003 and 2006. Statewide, 732 were
apprehended for illegal encroachment. 471 of these were illegal
immigrants. “The illegal workers were paid by the illegal local
entrepreneurs,” said the statement.

“These figures reflect the gravity¬† of the role of illegal immigrants, as hired hands, to plunder conservation areas, in Sabah.” The Forestry Department added that the illegal oil palm plantations in the reserves have been turned over to a subsidiary of Saham Amanah Sabah (SAS), a state-run company, to
manage until the crop reaches the end of its rotation, when it is to
be replaced with trees.

“The cost of destroying illegal oil palm and re-establishing with trees is very high, up to RM6,000.00/ha which the department cannot afford on its own. As SAS is owned by Sabah investors in the thousands, they will benefit from this venture and not just any privately owned company.” The statement ended with reaffirmation of the need for the Forestry Department to uphold the laws of Malaysia. “The rule of law must prevail and mob rule cannot
dictate public policy,” it said.

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