KUCHING: Peatland has been called the last frontier of arable land in Sarawak, which holds the key to realise the full potential of the state’s socioeconomic development in particular for rural communities.
Second Minister of Resource Planning and Environment Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said the state government is serious about peatland development as demonstrated through the establishment of the Tropical Peat Research Laboratory (TPRL), which is dedicated to develop scientific, technical knowledge and a clear understanding of sustainable peatland development.
“Peatland is the last frontier of arable land in Sarawak and this is the reality that we have to accept. We ensure that the sustainability of our peatland is an integral component of our development planning,” he said when closing the 15th International Peat Congress 2016 yesterday.
“With better knowledge and understanding about peat, taking into consideration that input from this congress which gathers researchers, professionals and experts, it is our commitment to enhance our management of peatland development through better government policies.”
He highlighted last week’s launch of a standard operating procedure (SOP) or manual to deal with the prevention and suppression of peat fires, to get landowners to be responsible in taking action to prevent peat fires on their property.
Awang Tengah noted that four major companies — which are owners of large tracts of land — have voluntarily committed to implement the SOP in their respective organisations.
“This is one of our efforts to prevent peat fire, which frequently occurs in Miri, contributing to the haze and unhealthy air. Ironically and interesting to note that the frequent peat fires occur on areas of land which were undeveloped. Obviously, when the area is left undeveloped, access to burning spots is almost impossible and making it difficult for firefighters to suppress the fire,” he said.
Awang Tengah pointed out that the government committed to sustainable development, citing Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sr Adenan Satem’s peat congress opening address on Tuesday, which emphasised that in pursuit of economic growth the quality of the environment would not be compromised.
He explained that the state had in place a Land Use Policy through which at least one million ha of land had been declared as Totally Protected Areas, while six million ha as Permanent Forest Estates.
“We will intensify our conservation programme through research and conservation efforts in our forested areas. For example, we are proud of our conservation programme in the Heart of Borneo areas. We have achieved considerable success in our conservation efforts.
“The fight against illegal logging will continue to be intensified and the state is also inviting local and international research organisations to conduct studies in our forested areas, as long as we have a common objective,” Awang Tengah added.
Congress general Dr Lulie Melling, who is also TPRL Unit director, said the most compelling aspect of the conference was how it was able to bring together professionals from various backgrounds be it geography, hard sciences, agriculture, political science, information technology and even anthropology, for a truly holistic peat learning experience.
“An interdisciplinary understanding of peat is truly invaluable in cementing peat’s role as a soil for the future.
Through this congress, we have also forged a better understanding of the different cultures, environment and socio-economic conditions,” she said.
Among those present were Assistant Minister for Resource Planning Datuk Mohd Naroden Majais, Ministry of Resource Planning and Environment permanent secretary Datu Sudarsono Osman, newly-appointed International Peatland Society president Gerald Schmilewski and Malaysian Peat Society president Frederick Haili Teck.