Malaysian record raises Royal concern for Cambodia
biographer Julio A. Jeldres, after reading a concerned article by King
Norodom Sihanouk, decided to do his own research into Malaysian forestry giant
and Cambodian concession-holder, Samling Corporation.
A YEAR ago, the
Cambodian government granted a generous 60-year logging concession to the
Malaysian company Samling Corporation. The concession involved 800,000 hectares
in the provinces of Kratie, Mondolkiri, Kompong Cham, Koh Kong and Kompong Speu
- about four percent of Cambodia's total territory.
Critics signaled, at
the time, that the deal signed by Cambodia's First Prime Minister, Prince
Ranariddh, during one of his frequent visits to the Malaysian capital, lacked
environmental controls and that the logging, if it proceeded unchecked, could
cause vast destruction. They pointed out that Cambodia's forests could not last
another five years confronted with such high level of deforestation.
so", said Malaysia's Ambassador to Cambodia, Deva Mohd. Ridzam, when asked to
comment by the Phnom Penh Post (Jan 27-Feb 9, 1995) on the concession
granted to Samling Corporation, "they will do selective logging as well as
re-forestation and a-forestation". He said that Samling was one of the logging
firms cited internationally for its "sustainable forest development
At the same time, His Majesty King Sihanouk sent me a copy of
an article he had authored on the destruction of Cambodia's forests. His
Majesty, quite rightly, felt that if measures were not promptly taken by the
Cambodian authorities, Cambodia risked becoming a desert in the very near
I was deeply disturbed by these differing views and decided to
conduct my own research of the Malaysian logging experience and whether
Samling's executives were in fact as concerned by the environmental effects of
logging as Ambassador Ridzam had said they were. I asked the Australian branch
of the environmental group "Friends of the Earth" to help me and they kindly
selected a Malaysian-born officer with extensive contacts within Malaysia to
help me in my endeavor.
Samling Corporation is one of the largest logging
companies based in the East Malaysian State of Sarawak. It is owned by Yaw Teck
Seng and has logging concessions amounting to about 1.5 million hectares in
Sarawak until the year 2013.
The forests of the state of Sarawak are said
to contain the greatest diversity of plant and animal species existing anywhere
on earth. According to a book published in London in 1980, authored by R.
Hanbury-Tenison (Mulu, the Rainforest, Weidenfield & Nicholson), they hold
as yet undiscovered scientific secrets and play a vital role in balancing the
world's natural ecology.
In the 1960s, large scale commercial logging
began in Sarawak and these ancient forests have since been mercilessly
"massacred" by the chainsaws of loggers for quick profit.
Sarawak is carried out through the granting of licenses by the Minister of
Forestry (currently also the State's Chief Minister). About half of the logging
concessions are on State land, where the removal of all trees (clear felling) is
permitted. In the remaining concessions, on "permanent forest estates", the aim
is to manage the forest for a sustainable timber yield. Here, the loggers are
supposed to remove no more than ten mature trees per hectare, leaving behind
enough undamaged trees (residual stands) to ensure a new crop of large trees
when the chainsaws return (normally after 30 years).
However, an FAO (UN
Food and Agricultural Organization) study has shown that it takes more than 40
years for the residual stands to recover. Under the Selective Felling System
(SFS) in Sarawak, regions of hill forests are supposed to be logged on a 25-year
rotation. Yet, in practice the forests have been cut a second or even a third
time within only a few years.
Environmental effects of logging in Sarawak.
In Sarawak, the activities of Samling Corporation and other logging concerns
have resulted in the following, among others, adverse environmental
- Damage to residual stands.
This occurs when large trees with spreading crowns are felled in the
direction of neighboring trees which break and fall against successive stands.
This type of damage has been severe in Sarawak's forests which are characterized
by an abundance of vines and woody climbers. According to a report in the New
Scientist (14 March 1992), as many as 70 percent of trees in a forest may be
damaged or destroyed during the extraction of only 10 percent.
- Soil Erosion due to Logging.
The use of tractors and other heavy equipment in logging operations causes
soil damage such as top soil removal, soil compaction, soil heaps and back-up
flooding from high culverts. A Sarawak State Task Force on logging concluded in
1987 that the rate of soil lost in Sarawak from areas with exposed and disturbed
soil are greater than 100 ton/hectare per year as compared to no more than 0.1
percent of a ton/hectare per year for primary forest.
- River Flow Changes and Water Quality.
The forest cover has ameliorating effects on the flow of river systems. It
intercepts a considerable proportion of rainfall which it releases back to the
atmosphere through the process of evapotranspiration. It temporarily stores some
of the rain water as thoroughfall and slowly releases this water to the river
system as run-off. Soil under forest cover has high infiltration and water
holding capacities and, therefore, can absorb more rain water which is slowly
released to streams and rivers as run-off thus preventing flooding. With
extensive logging comes increased flooding.
Friends of the Earth-Malaysia
estimated that flooding in 1981 in Sarawak cost the local economy some $12
million in damage to crops and livestock alone while the State's Department of
Agriculture admitted that if the flooding is to be controlled, the logging
should be stopped immediately.
- Effects of Logging on Wildlife.
Logging has contributed to wildlife depletion in logged forests in Sarawak
through the destruction of natural habitat (resting and hiding places);
destruction of food sources such as fruits, leaves, roots and bark; through
killing and capturing of animals by hunters or loggers themselves.
- Effects on the Aquatic System.
Rivers that drain logged areas are often overloaded with soil particles,
vegetable debris and pollutants such as sawdust and diesel oil. This turns water
turbid. As a result local diets have suffered severely due to decline in fish
stocks and poor water quality.
Effects of logging on indigenous communities.
Sarawak is inhabited by several indigenous communities. The land, the forests
and the extensive river system form the basis for the livelihood and life of the
indigenous peoples of Sarawak. Their most cherished traditions and spiritual
beliefs are centered on their relationship to the land.
this reverence for the land means that it cannot be bought or sold. Each
indigenous group thrived on a complex system of rights and responsibilities
towards the land and the forest known as "adat". The "adat" have been strictly
observed by all its members and each group has been living a subsistence
lifestyle, relying on the land, the rivers and the forests for survival. When
the government opens up forests for commercial logging, indigenous peoples are
displaced from their land and dispossessed of cultures.
Some of the
issues confronting Sarawak's indigenous peoples are: landrights; loss of food
sources from logged forests; loss of plants for medicines; loss of economic
activities (basketry, nuts, resins, bamboo goods are major sources of cash
income for some communes); lack of compensation by logging companies when lands
and forests, to which they have customary rights, are destroyed; displacement
and resettlement forcing many of them to seek refuge in urban centers where
young men end up as casual laborers inhabiting squalid slums as squatters and
young women prostitute to earn a living.
One needs to question, from an
environmental and ethical point of view, the Samling Corporation's track record
when dealing with indigenous peoples and land rights issues.
through these kind of practices that Samling has built its huge business empire
which today includes concessions in Guyana and Cambodia.
As can be seen
from the above, rather depressing report on Samling's logging activities in
Malaysia, the company is far from being, to use Ambassador Ridzam's words, "one
of the logging firms cited internationally for its sustainable forest
The big question confronting the Cambodian
authorities that granted the logging concession to Samling is: Will a Malaysian
company that has shown complete disregard for the environment and the well-being
of its own country and its own indigenous peoples behave differently with regard
to the interests of the people of Cambodia?
"The extensive and ceaseless
destruction of our forests causes and shall cause, alas, every year, more and
more disastrous droughts and, consequently, lethal for our people, the small
citizenry which constitutes more than 80 percent of the Cambodian Nation" wrote
His Majesty King Sihanouk in his recent article on the destruction of Cambodia's
Let us hope that those responsible for the current logging
activities in Cambodia will heed this Royal plead and take appropriate measures
to protect Cambodia's forests from rapacious local and foreign
- Julio Jeldres is His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk's
official biographer and the former director of the Khmer Institute of