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Legality and Sustainability
The natural tropical forests in Malaysia, which is one of the twelve mega-biodiversity countries in the world, is a very complex ecosystem. Managing such an ecosystem sustainably is both challenging and burdensome. According to the ITTO, sustainable forest management (SFM) may be defined as follows :
“The process of managing permanent forest land to achieve one or more clearly specified objectives of management with regard to the production of a continuous flow of desired forest products and services without undue reduction in inherent values and future productivity and without undue undesirable effects on the physical and social environment”
The bottom-line of SFM are three vital dimensions, social, environmental and economic. Amongst others, the lives and livelihoods of communities living in and around forest management units must not be adversely affected by timber harvesting; biodiversity must be conserved; environmental values protected and the inherent capacity of the ecosystem to provide goods and services, undiminished. In addition, such management and harvesting operations must also be economically viable not only during the first cut but also in the long-term during subsequent rotations.
SFM is assessed by independent auditors using principles, criteria and indicators in the process of forest certification. These principles, criteria and indicators are formulated through stakeholder consultations in an open and transparent manner in which all stakeholder groups take part. The Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) operates such a scheme. The Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS), in accordance with international norms, consists of 9 Principles and Criteria, each with several indicators and verifiers.
Currently, ten forest management units, covering 4.85 hectares are certified under the MTCS in Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak. Another forest management unit, Deramakot, totaling 55,083 hectares, have been certified under the FSC scheme in Sabah. The total area of certified forests in Malaysia represents about 34 % of the total permanent reserved forests.
Malaysia has the highest percentage of certified forests managed sustainably in relation to its total area of permanent forests in a tropical country. We can therefore speak from experience the challenging tasks on the implementation of SFM and forest certification. Suffice it is to say that they require skills, resources, both financial and human and strong institutions apart from commitment at all levels. Our success in forest certification is attributable also to the hard work and dedication of our forest managers and the support of industry which I must not fail to acknowledge. Equally, we are most appreciative of the support from and participation by non-governmental environmental and social stakeholder groups especially in the development of the MTCS. I must stress that implementation of SFM and certification is largely country-driven to be successful.
I have taken time to go into some details about SFM because we need to distinguish sustainable timber from legal timber. Obviously, legal timber also needs to be verified through some form of auditing based on selected principles, criteria and indicators which forms a sub-set of those which define sustainable timber. Nevertheless, the selected principles and criteria characterize and define legal timber must comply with relevant legislation dealing with local communities, labour, environmental management, payment of statutory charges and procedures that will ensure that timber harvested is from a legal origin.
If SFM is a destination, it is reached only after a long and difficult journey at the end of which sustainable timber is produced. But on such long journey, to achieve SFM, major milestones will be encountered, one of which is where legal timber, as specified under the VPA, maybe assured. The challenge therefore is to determine at which point in the journey towards SFM, legal timber is obtained. We believe that we have struck the necessary balance in the proposed TLAS which will be presented later.