The padi fields of Muda produce 40% of all rice grown in the country and they are dependent on water collected in three dams in the heart of Ulu Muda forest, said the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS).
But the new Kedah government’s decision to allow loggers back into Ulu Muda will threaten the vital ecosystem, said MNS president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail.
Now that the pandemic is under control, the administration must follow through on past conservation policies, Ahmad told The Malaysian Insight.
This also includes setting firm boundaries around the state parks which contain important forests like Ulu Muda, he said.
These parks include Belum Temenggor in Perak and Endau Rompin in Johor which are threatened by loggers and planters.
“When it comes to laws and policies on conservation, we have among the best in the world. But our problem is the implementation of those policies,” said Ahmad.
At times, the federal government passes a good policy but it is not translated into action of the ground by the state government, which has ultimate say over natural resources, land and water.
“The government must be on the same page in terms of policy, implementation and enforcement and between the federal ministries and the states.”
For instance, previous Barisan Nasional federal governments designated certain forests are state parks which prohibits any logging or commercial activity.
“But if a forest is designated as a state park why does logging still happen around it? This is the issue,” said Ahmad.
The former Pakatan Harapan state government intended to turn Ulu Muda into a state park.
Before he was ousted, Kedah menteri besar Mukhriz Mahathir suspended logging in Ulu Muda while it was being converted into a state park.
Soon after taking power, his successor, Muhammad Sanusi Mohd Nor, said that the state would have to pay loggers up to RM 1 billion in compensation if they were not allowed back into Ulu Muda.
Mukhriz refuted the claim, saying it was merely an excuse to resume logging in Ulu Muda.
MNS’ Ahmad said the Covid-19 pandemic showed how Malaysia’s food security is easily threatened if trade and borders are closed as this could mean lower imports of rice and other foods.
Malaysian farms grow enough rice to meet 70% of domestic needs while the rest is imported from Thailand, Vietnam and India.
During the pandemic, Vietnam stopped exporting rice as it wanted its stock for domestic consumption.
“The pandemic showed us how critical forests like Ulu Muda is. If we destroy more of it there will be not enough water for our padi fields and we won’t be able to grow enough rice for our population.
“As it is, we already rely on imports to feed our rice needs, if we harm our domestic production we will be in even worse shape.”