Cut Down Oil Palm on River Banks, Plantations Warned

By Jaswinder Kaur

KINABATANGAN: Stop planting oil palm trees on river banks or risk getting your licence revoked by the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

Unhappy that many have not adhered to the Sabah government’s ruling to stop growing crops close to the river, Kinabatangan member of parliament Datuk Bung Moktar Radin sees no other choice but to seek federal help so that plantations will take the matter seriously.

A riparian reserve is important for ecological and wildlife reasons.

Bung’s constituency in eastern Sabah, which is almost the size as Pahang, is home to Sungai Kinabatangan, which at 560km is the second longest in the country and is also an important spot for the palm oil industry.

He said 60 per cent of the river bank was planted with oil palm. He added that he would speak with the federal ministry to get its help to freeze licences.

“I will get the Kinabatangan district officer to identify errant companies and then we will get support from the federal Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

“I am also asking the Sabah government, through the Land and Survey Department, to issue notices to these companies to take action within six months.”

He said studies showed that about 80,000 tonnes of toxic waste from plantations were dumped into the river annually, causing villagers who depended on the river to suffer.

“They use chemicals at these plantations and if trees are planted too close to the river, chemicals will seep into it.”

He had earlier joined officers from his constituency to cut down oil palm trees which were planted close to the river, near Kampung Batu Puteh.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Azmi Khalid picked up a chainsaw to cut down an oil palm tree.

Bung said: “This is the first time we are cutting down trees. The owner of this plantation agreed to let us do it.

“As far as we know, only two companies have cleared oil palm trees from river banks.

“We want the others to do the same soon. The ruling from the state government was issued more than a year ago.”

The Sabah government had in May last year warned plantation owners against growing oil palm on riparian reserves to protect the rivers.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman was quoted as saying that river banks were considered state land.

He asked the Land and Survey Department and the Drainage and Irrigation Department to monitor plantations.

The length of a riparian reserve depends on the width and importance of the river.

Sabah has 1.3 million hectares of oil palm, most of them planted in Kinabatangan and surrounding districts.

Meanwhile, Azmi said there was nothing much his ministry could do as riparian reserves fall under the jurisdiction of the Sabah government.

“I know that the Sabah government is serious about protecting the environment.

“The Kinabatangan area is home to wildlife, some of which can only be found here. Tourists pay a lot of money to see crocodiles and orang utans.”

The Kinabatangan floodplain houses 10 primate species and a variety of birds and reptiles.

The 26,000 Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, which was declared a Gift to the Earth, is located within the constituency.

(c) 2007 New Straits Times. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.