ALOR SETAR: The Kedah Loggers’ Association (PPNK) has expressed hope that the state government can allow more time for the domestic timber industry to transition into new economies before fully gazetting the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve (UMFR) as a State Park.
Its chairman Wan Muhammad Amin Mokhtar, in applauding Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir's efforts in gazetting the UMFR, said PPNK takes cognisant on the crucial role served by the UMFR as a water catchment area.
"The gazetting is viewed as a strategic effort to safeguard the security of Kedah’s water resources for its domestic and regional consumption.
"Nonetheless, reflecting on the state’s current economic performance, which is still in its transitional phase to more lucrative and sustainable industries, PPNK hopes the government can allow more time for the domestic timber industry to transition into the new economies," he said today.
Mukhriz had recently said that the state government was prepared to gazette the UMFR as a State Park, but stressed that a number of issues needed to be studied and understood first.
Although the forest reserve is not gazetted as a state park yet, all activities including logging which could threaten the area’s ecosystem have been stopped.
According to Wan Muhammad Amin, since not all of the UMFR forest complex is water-sensitive, PPNK requests that the division of the UMFR, which measures about 163,103 hectares, can be carried out in a fair and just manner to ensure that the rights and concerns of the state economic actors can be balanced out evenly with the rights and concerns of the parties concerned with the sustainability of the environment.
He said should all of the UMFR is gazetted as a State Park, the development and maintenance for an area measuring 163,103 hectares (an equivalent of 163,103 football field) would pose a tremendous strain on the state’s economy.
"And since the full gazetting will effectively paralyse the state timber industry, the state will also lose one of its biggest source of income, which can otherwise be used to shoulder the conservation cost.
"When this happens, the state of Kedah will be forced to address two critical issues at the same time -- which is the huge cost of developing and maintaining its State Park, and the disappearance of a large chunk of its income.
"This is not a favourable position to be in," he added.
He noted that PPNK equally shares the concerns expressed by the environmental bodies concerned with the loss of the state’s water source, and the negative impact this would have on the livelihood of the people and paddy industry, as well as its regional partners.
"However, being in the 21st century, we have had the technological capabilities to address the issue of water source, paddy planting and the people’s livelihood in a more innovative, progressive and just manner.
"This being said, PPNK observes that a full gazetting of the UMFR as a State Park is an approach that denies the state’s ability to give a more strategic response to the issues mentioned above.
"If we are to evaluate the impact State Parks have on the economies of the states developing them, the most relevant example for Kedah will be Perak and Pahang, which have both developed and maintained the Royal Belum and Endau-Rompin State Parks.
"In these states, the State Parks have not been able to reach the level of economic contribution expected from them, and in the end, the two states still have to resort to maintaining its timber industry in order to shoulder the state economic needs.
"Should the state government do the same, without preempting holistically the impact of a full gazetting of State Parks, the state risks falling into similar economic trap, and this will further weaken the performance of the state’s economy," he pointed out.
As such, Wan Muhammad Amin urged the state government to re-evaluate its current economic capabilities, in order for the state to be able to di
spense its economic and political responsibilities more effectively to its people and its surrounding states.
He added that the dual roles expected from the state government to safeguard the food security of the nation, as well as the water security of the region, are not proportionate to the state’s economic strength.
"This in hand, PPNK believes that a more crucial focus should be reserved to improve the performance and quality of the state’s existing resources first, so that Kedah can truly carry out the responsibility of safeguarding the region’s water security in the future," he added.
It was recently recported that there were fears of the threat to the source of water for Kedah, Penang and Perlis if the UMFR is not gazetted as a State Park.
Kedah provides water supply to the northern region, mainly Perlis and land-strapped Penang, which is a major manufacturing hub.