JAKARTA, Indonesia — Brunei Darussalam will limit its agricultural land use to one percent, a government minister pledged this week, saying that the tiny country on the island of Borneo has “strong political will” to conserve its forests.
Brunei is about the size of Bangkok, but three-quarters of its land area is covered in forest, most of which sits within the Heart of Borneo, a 22-million-hectare landscape with vast tracts of high-conservation-value forest.
Brunei is committed to “sustainable and responsible agricultural practices,” said Pehin Dato Yahya Bakar, Minister of Industry and Primary Resources, in his address on the last day of the Forests Asia Summit this week.
“We limit our agricultural production to no more than one percent of our land areas, even for (activities) as important as the production for staple foods such as rice,” Bakar said.
He said his country was committed to working with Indonesia and Malaysia — which share the island with Brunei — in conserving the Heart of Borneo, as they agreed to in a 2007 declaration.
“In Brunei there’s a strong political will and active participation of all levels of society to protect and conserve our natural forest heritage,” he said.
He said Brunei was also committed to leveraging on “technology and know-how” to achieve food security through using a higher variety of crops and more productive farming techniques, rather than clear-cutting forests for agriculture.
The country will continue to offer its tropical rainforest for use as research and study, Bakar said, adding that Brunei had decided to stop timber harvesting in its production forest reserve “to maintain the integrity of our forest ecosystems.”
“We recognize the increasing value of our forest ecosystem based on its ecological services and biological biodiversity to be of much value than the timber services alone,” he said.
Borneo has lost around half its forest cover, most in recent decades as logging for tropical hardwood intensified in the 1970s; mining activities and palm oil plantations have rapidly expanded more recently.
In Philippines, a lesson learned
Speaking after the Brunei minister, Demetrio Ignacio, undersecretary of the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources, described at the Summit how rampant deforestation had left his country with just 24 percent forest cover, one of the lowest in Southeast Asia, and how the government is going to great lengths to begin recovering its forest. (Watch the video, above.)
Since 2011, it has mapped out an ambitious tree-planting program to bring its forest cover up to 30 percent by 2016; it also has implemented the country’s first logging ban.
Since then, authorities have seized some 25.5 million board feet of illegally harvested forestry products and have convicted more than 180 people for illegally contributing to the destruction of forests, Ignacio said.
The country is using drones to monitor deforestation and has reduced the number of illegal logging hotspots by 84 percent, Ignacio said, from 197 to 31 since 2011.
“We will further reduce these hotspots until there are none,” he said.
The undersecretary emphasized the importance of curbing deforestation in combating climate change, pointing to the devastation that disasters like typhoon Haiyan, which ripped through parts of the country, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving tens of thousands displaced.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections, if temperatures rise by more than two degrees Celsius by the end of century, have “serious implications for the Philippines,” Ignacio said.
“We are one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change.”