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Published: April 3rd 2015
The rape of the rainforest
Do you buy cheap biscuits or Doritos products from Tesco and processed food? The chances are that you are contributing to the demise of the rainforest and it's creatures!
Sadly there is no primary rainforest left in Borneo - apart from an area in Temburong National Park in Brunei which we plan to visit later.
Oil palm plantations
Since 1970 much primary and secondary rainforest in Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan has been cleared for oil palm production which is the world's most productive food crop producing up to 10 times more oil per hectare than sunflower seed, soybean or rapeseed. 85% of the world' s palm oil is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia and it's rapid expansion has devastated natural habitats and reduced bio diversity.
This says it all According to the authors of Birds of Borneo.
Primary rainforest. ---------------------1200 Tree species 200 birds
Reduced Impact Logging after 30 yrs. 1200 Tree species 200 birds
Secondary forest after slash & burn.----- 80 tree species 60 birds
Oil palm plantation---------------------------1 tree species 12 birds
Land for palm oil plantations, particularly on slopes, is often totally stripped of
Bunches of oil palm fruit
Oil is extracted from the fruit nut or kernel.
vegetation and terraced to ensure a depth of soil and make access and harvesting easier. This removes virtually all habitats and promotes soil erosion and leaching of nutrients in the heavy tropical rain.
Palms produce kernels after 3 to 5 years and are cut with a blade on a long pole. Palms produce for about 25 years or until the trees are too tall for cutters to reach the palm fruit. The undergrowth is sprayed to help access although it is very shady under the trees and not conducive to plant growth.
Clear felling of old palms for replanting promotes further soil erosion. New trees require increased fertilizer application. No one knows the outcome yet of old palm oil plantations when they are finally abandoned when they are no longer productive.
Palm oil companies encourage local people with small amounts of land to grow palm oil trees. They terrace the land for them and plant the palms and provide the landowner with a small income. So - it is not only the habitats in the rainforests which are being devastated but also local habitats around villages.
According to today's Borneo Post Boustead Plantations Bhd, one of
Secondary planting on terraces.
Oil palm plantation with rainforest in distance
many large companies, wants to expand its landbank by another 20% within the next 2/3 years from the current 83,400 hectares. Malaysia remains it's top choice due to the country's stable political situation, fertile land as well as predictable weather. The major factor potentially affecting oil palm planting and palm oil production is the increase in production of soybean, it's main competitor, in the US. This is occurring at the expense of corn because of declining corn prices and comparatively lower production costs for soybeans.
While at the forest reserve base camp on the last adventure I was lucky to be able to speak to forest staff who explained current forestry policy and I watched a promotional video on 'Reduced Impact Logging'. (RIL) This aims to minimise the impact of the extraction of timber on the rainforest environment and to promote natural re-establishment and regeneration of rainforest trees for future extraction in 40 years. Little was said about future habitats for wildlife!
I did get permission to visit a current logging site but it was Friday and some of the contractors had finished early. I did hear that previous visitors had been totally distraught at the
sight of wonderful mature rainforest trees being dessimated - so perhaps I saved myself from an unhappy emotional experience.
Clear felling - slash and burn - for commercial timber was practiced until the 1970's. After that logging techniques improved but the introduction of (RIL) in 1997 - in theory - has helped to minimise carbon loss and resulted in minimal soil erosion, better water catchment control, reduced water loss and run off, reduced river pollution, reduced canopy damage and improved re-establishment of trees in secondary forest for future timber production. So they say. I guess it must be better than before.
RIL involves initial surveys to assess timber potential and record existing geological features, rivers, roads and settlements and identify the need for infrastructure required for extraction - roads, bridges, culverts, drainage etc. Also a strict guidance document is drawn up for contractors.
Further damage has been reduced by clearly marking trees over 50 cm diameter for felling and trees to be left for a future timber crop or fruiting trees which will provide food for wild creatures. Further canopy damage is being reduced by directional felling and in more difficult terrain logs are helicoptered
out. In other area logs are winched out using a thick metal rope along a skid trail to temporary fish trail tracks accessible to caterpillar tracked machines which then drag the logs to more permanent well constructed roads to await up-loading onto lorries. This minimises the use of tracked vehicles on the rainforest floor. There is no replanting. Unwanted competing trees are thinned to allow the required trees to emerge through the canopy. Estimated regeneration time to logging is 40 years.
The seraya tree is the most common, a quick growing tree exported mainly to Japan for construction. Other hardwoods are used for furniture, shorter sections are sliced and used for plywood. Any branches under 20cm are left to decompose. There is no burning.
Extraction is followed by an independent audit.... But it is hard to control independent contractors reliant on extracting timber as quickly as possible to maximise profit.
However, the current depreciation of the Ringitt, unfortunately for the rain forest, may augur well for the oil palm and timber sectors!
Of course the banks are only too happy to provide capital for the expansion of this valuable oil palm investment.
Logs being loaded onto a transporter.
The transporter visibly shook when a large log was loaded onto it.
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