A plea and Temiars, deforestation and climate change — Azrina M. Yusof-Ong

AUGUST 30 — I am reading with concern and alarm on how the Kelantan state government behaved towards its citizens — the Orang Asli, indigenous people specifically from the Temiar tribe, whose plight about their home in the forest has forced them to erect blockades in the last couple of years.  And I read with disbelief of the state government’s shameful resolve to allow the pristine forest to be clearcut, logged and to be replaced with the Durian Musang King monoculture! I am therefore writing this letter, in the spirit of Malaysia Baru, the new government, which I myself had voted for with great hope.

From what happened recently, I surmised:

1.The Kelantan state government has failed to recognise its people’s rights to their native customary land and traditions — the original people who have lived here long before even the Malays, Chinese, Indians set foot on this land. For thousands of years, they have lived harmoniously with the environment, following their own traditions, which include their ancient graveyards and sacred sites. Logging these areas means our heritage will be lost completely before we even recognised them.

2. The state government has put the profits of companies which pay them licensing fees first instead of its own people. And did they forget that the Temiar are its people? Or do they view the Orang Asli as outsiders? The behaviour and response of the state government is against any semblance of human rights and dignity. By depleting the forest, we are displacing and killing the culture and way of life of the Orang Asli. Why can’t we respect them like how the New Zealanders respect their Maori? In 2015 when I visited the beautiful New Zealand, we would come across signages with written explanations about the area being a sacred Maori site, or a story regarding the landscape from the Maoris tradition. Most areas still maintain their Maori names as a form of respect to the original inhabitants of the land.

3. Deforestation remains a state income earner to the detriment of the environment and its inhabitants. Due to the introduction of Ladang Rakyat in Kelantan, while previously, selective logging is practiced, now clear cutting and mono-cropping, like Durian King, and palm oil is practiced. Mono-cropping is not a sustainable solution. A clear example of the effects of deforestation and mono-cropping was in 2014 — the Bah Merah, or Red Floods, possibly one of the worst flood in the recent history of Malaysia, costing more than RM200 million lost to the state, not to mention the loss of great swathes of top soil washed down the rivers. It is no coincidence that between 2010 and 2012, according to Google forest map, Malaysia has the highest deforestation in the world with intense concentration in Kelantan. (news.mongabay.com/2013/11/). In the same years, palm oil plantation rose by 50 per cent.  Forests play many important ecological roles. From helping to mitigate climate change; providing homes for many species of plants and animals; providing food, medicine and livelihoods for people around the globe; protecting topsoil, serves as water catchment and harbour rich biodiversity. Forests around the world store more than double the amount of carbon dioxide than is found in the atmosphere. Forestland covers 31 per cent of our planet. It is estimated that 25 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas production comes from deforestation alone. (Lauren Bennett, April 2017). This means that when areas are deforested, the carbon dioxide stored in those trees is released into the atmosphere. This greenhouse effect is what’s causing climate change that we are experiencing now across the world in the form of flash floods, typhoons, dry spells in greater degrees.

Kelantan has beautiful rugged landscapes and balmy beaches. It has a rich tapestry of arts and culture, as well as a colourful history and heritage. All these are resources that can be developed sustainably as income generation for the state and its people. I have compiled a list of ways income streams can be created. While I acknowledge some work has been done in these areas, there is a lot of room for improvement in promoting Kelantan’s traditional arts, and its rich cultural and environmental heritage.

1. Eco tourism and adventure — the forests areas of Gunung Korbu and various Orang Asli places can be developed into indigenous culture tourism, jungle trekking and eco-adventure activities.  The beaches can be cleaned up and various homestays set up to experience the local fishing kampong culture. The Orang Asli can be employed as tour guides and skilled trekkers.

2. Heritage sites — the pasar besar Kota Bharu can be cleaned and turned into a heritage centre not too different from Central Market in Kuala Lumpur ripe for trades — for cottage industry, and batik arts, the playing of Gasing and showcasing the beautiful Wau (kites).

3. Islamic tourism — being known as the ‘verandah of Mecca’ — Kelantan can develop Islamic architectures and showcase that as well, including Chinese Muslim mosques.

4. Cottage industries — revive the various cottage industries form extinction — Wau (kites), the keropok, and the traditional game of Gasing, and wayang kulit.

5. Arts — the batik industry can be revived and centres can be open to teach Batik making and the art of batik, batik printing, batik painting, and batik trading as well as trading of batik clothing.

6. Folk arts and performing arts — can be a centre for the traditional Malay performing arts such as Mak Yong, Wayang kulit, Silat and Dikir Barat.

7. Creating food havens or centres — for Kelantan delights such as Nasi Kerabu, Nasi Dagang, keropok, budu and other local delights that can be accessed easily for trade. As I write here, I am totally amazed by the richness of Kelantan state — as I find Selangor where I live and come from, pales totally in comparison! What we mostly have is boring urban shopping malls. From all the seven areas — if well implemented the Kelantan government can then collect taxes, licensing and rentals from the centres and from the traders.

Collectively, I am sure the income stream will big and substantial enough for Kelantan government to administer the state. Perhaps Penang state can offer to share on how they do their collection in order to grow its income base, with its clean and lovely Heritage sites and all.  What I am saying is, yes have your income base, but do it from sustainable sources. Because if you continue logging, eventually you will deplete your rainforest enough that you won’t even have any licenses to offer. Our rainforest is truly, our final precious resource. But if all that does not work, then I have a final wish to ask.

And this is to the lawmakers and the Federal Government. I would like to suggest a climate change policy to be drafted out federally so that it can regulate all states. I would suggest here that the law should include a regulation on the carbon footprint threshold for each state in Malaysia. And if they crossed the threshold — a severe and deterrent fine should be made to the state so that they will self-regulate. Other deterrent fines can include withholding or deducting the oil royalties.

It is my sincere hope that this letter be read in good faith, as a concerned citizen. I have no vested interest in Kelantan or with anyone there and neither am I politically vested in the new federal government. I hope also that the Kelantan state and relevant lawmakers will receive the suggestions in good faith, for it will not only be for the betterment of the state, it will be better for Malaysia too.

As we celebrate 62 years Merdeka, let us reflect on the meaning of independence and freedom that embraces all Malaysians — and that should include the Orang Asli who are still struggling to protect their native customary land from deforestation as we speak.


Azrina M. Yusof-Ong

Chief Executive Officer Teknologi Inovasi Solar Sdn Bhd

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.