Environment International Nature

Where is all of Malaysia’s timber going?

The east coast of Malaysia is no stranger to floods, but even so it couldn’t have prepared us all for this year’s almost-Armageddon kind of disaster. But this isn’t the only natural ‘disaster’ that we’re battling.

A study reveals that massive deforestation is going on worldwide and the country with the highest deforestation rate since 2000 is…

Global Forest Change map by Uni Maryland. Click for World Map.

Malaysia!!! Global Forest Change map by University of Maryland. Click for World Map.

We’ve lost 14.4% of our forests in 14 years. Which is 47,278 sqkm. Which is larger than Denmark. So technically Malaysia has lost more than se-Denmark of trees.
We lost trees equivalent to an area size of Denmark.

Even though the signs are starting to look very scary for Malaysia, loggers have no intention of stopping this money-making business.

But where the heck is all the wood going?

So why are we logging so much and what’s happening to all the wood?

Belian wood stool. Image from Asiana Gallery.

Hey this stool would make a nice addition to the CILISOS office. Image from Asiana Gallery.

Furniture!!! That’s where all our forest wood is going. And paper, and raw materials for building construction, etc.

Malaysia is one of the world’s largest exporters of tropical logs, plywood, timber and furniture. And the demand is very high because timber is apparently the world’s second largest industry after food. According to the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB) Director-General Dr. Jalaluddin Harun, timber contributes RM20 billion to Malaysia’s exports annually and RM13 billion to the domestic market.

Actually there is an even bigger reason why we’re botak-ing our forests…

Guess where 40% of the world’s palm oil comes from?

Malaysia, of course! The industry is the 4th largest in Malaysia. In 2013, we earned RM37.81 billion from palm oil export. Then in 2014 it went up to RM39.65 billion. We’re the No. 2 biggest exporter of this commodity in the world! No wonder everyone wants in.

Image from Jason Motlagh on The Atlantic.

Image from Jason Motlagh on The Atlantic.

According to the study, even though we lost so much forest cover, there was some forest gain of 25,978 sqkm. Out of that, 17,000 sqkm of it came from the growth of our palm oil industry – that’s a growth of roughly half! So that means we’re logging forest trees and putting palm oil trees in their place.

Sounds good, what. We get timber, get to plant palm oil trees, then get export that as well…

If only it worked that way! Plantations can’t hold a candle to natural forests at all.

“You can’t ‘net out’ deforestation by planting trees because newly planted forests are far less valuable for carbon, biodiversity and forest-dependent people than standing native forests.” – Dan Zarin, Programme Director of the Climate and Land Use Alliance, Mongabay

Aiyo really? What’s the difference between a natural forest tree and a palm oil tree anyway? We’ll use a rainforest belian tree to compare.

belian tree forest vs palm oil tree


Source: Belian Tree from Global Trees Campaign, Palm Oil Tree from Wikipedia

Bottom line is, we’re still losing a huge amount of natural resources when we cut down the old to make way for the new. And the loggers really know how to pick ’em. They choose the densest forests where carbon is stored most and wildlife is richest.

What’s so bad about palm oil plantations?

OMG then we’ll have to rename the Rainforest World Music Festival to Plantation World Music Festival.


Rainfo…ooops, we mean, Plantation World Music Festival.

Sounds stupid, but seriously that is the least of our problems…

Experts Alain Rival and Patrice Levang wrote in their book, Palms of controversies: Oil palm and development challenges, that there’s both GOOD and BAD to this industry. Here’s an easy pictorial on the Center for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) site. No we don’t mean this C4.

Not C4. CIFOR.

The good stuff about palm oil is on the left (white) and bad stuff on the right (grey):

CIFOR's palm oil pictorial, good and bad (part 1a). Image from CIFOR.

Image from CIFOR.

To add to what’s not covered in the pictorial, here are other negative effects of deforestation:

Orang utan caught by plantation workers, Indonesia. Image from all-creatures.org.

Image from all-creatures.org.

  1. The mono-specificity of planting only palm oil trees is ecologically damaging.
  2. It causes haze from peat and forest fires from Indonesia because it’s the cheapest way to get rid of forest trees.
  3. Orang utans are dying from habitat loss and starvation.
  4. Child labour is exploited and about 50,000 children are displaced because they are born of foreign workers who work as loggers.
  5. Penan women and children are raped.
  6. Orang aslis lose their rights and lands, they rumah panjangs destroyed when loggers chop down the trees. These trees are also important to them spiritually.
Sabah has a new pass for illegal immigrants... and some people claim it's this green IC

How to keep our palm oil without destroying forests?

Can we do without palm oil? We’ll answer that without another question: Can we do without our processed food, cooking oil, margarine, soap, shampoo, make-up, detergent, paper, biodiesel, furniture, fertiliser, bla bla bla….. ya, we don’t think so lar.

So how? Save forests, cannot, don’t save forest also cannot.


The experts say it’s time to move away from extreme demonising or praising of the palm oil industry, instead develop it without destroying tropical forests. Here’s how they suggest it should be planted:

CIFOR's palm oil pictorial, good and bad (part 2). Image from CIFOR.

Image from CIFOR.

In Malaysia, we have this organisation called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). It acts as a watchdog to make sure companies adhere to international standards and are transparent. One of these members is the Zoological Society of London, and they’ve made something DAMN COOL.

yea this was the image that came to our heads too. - from gorillaland.net

Yeah, this was the image that came to our heads too. Image from gorillaland.net

It’s called the Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT). It combines companies’ assessments with satellite mapping technology to make Palm Oil Plantation information available to the whole world!

Image from Sustainable Palm Oil Platform.

Image from Sustainable Palm Oil Platform.

25 of the world’s biggest companies (like Sime Darby Plantation, IOI Corp, Kulim Bhd…) are given scores and you can see how transparent they are, and how well they’re managing the sustainability. Click this link so see how they are graded.

UPDATE: And they have similar thoughts as well. This is their official statement to us 🙂

here's another picture NOT of the Zoollogical Society of London. heehee - From digital.library.du.edu

Here’s another picture NOT of the Zoological Society of London, heehee. Image from digital.library.du.edu

” Over 50% of oil palm expansion between 1990 and 2005 in Malaysia and Indonesia directly replaced forests, and studies clearly indicate that oil palm expansion is a major driver of tropical deforestation leading to substantial losses of primary and selectively logged forests and peatlands.

The expansion of oil palm is linked to climate-altering impacts, responsible for 32% of total greenhouse gas emissions from land use change and peat oxidation in Malaysia. In addition, compared with primary (or selectively logged) forest, industrial oil palm plantations are species-poor, result in forest fragmentation that limits species dispersal and impact on critically endangered species, such as the Sumatran tiger and orangutan.

ZSL’s new Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT) assesses oil palm growers using publicly available information about the sustainability of company operations, helping to increase responsible investment, reduce deforestation and protect endangered species.” – – The Zoological Society of London to CILISOS via email

So there’s our answer. We can keep the lucrative palm oil business in our economy without chopping down any more trees and making the rest of the world hate us for causing global warming. Companies just have to do it sustainably and responsibly. Though it may not be financially agreeable to some, it’s a sacrifice we have to make for the sake of the Earth.

And if any company is found to breach international standards, action should be taken against them, fair anot? Now as Sarawak has changed hands, maybe we can hope that the new Chief Minister Adenan Satem will keep the Big Six timber companies in check?

Without waiting for the authorities we can also influence the survival of our rainforests. Monitor SPOTT, don’t support, buy products from or invest in companies that are not sustainable or disregard international standards! Soon enough every company will get the picture and begin to respect the environment.



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