Saturday, December 19, 2015

Biological Diversity and Heritage in Malaysia - a Public Lecture

Poster on the Public Lecture

The Evergreen Prof. Emeritus Dato' Dr. Abdul Latif Mohamad

At the main table, the moderator and the speaker 

The moderator, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology
Content of the Lecture
  1. Introduction. The public lecture was organised by the Faculty of Science and Technology, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) on Wednesday December 9, 2015 at the Dean's Building of the Faculty,  starting at 2.30 pm.  It was participated by an estimated 100 made up of the academic staff and graduate students of the Faculty and representatives of of UPM and UiTM.  The public lecture was delivered by Prof. Emeritus Dato' Dr. Abdul Latif Mohamad, an illustrious professor of the Faculty who has been teaching and researching in systematic botany since 1978 and exploring the many forested areas in the country to record their biodiversity for many years. He has been attributed to have discovered and described 18 plant species. His studies and conservation activities of Malaysian biodiversity has been recognized with the conferment of many awards such as the Langkawi Award and the Merdeka Award.  It was also a previlege that Prof. Latif is a friend and we have been associated as the long standing members and elected officers of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), participated in scientific expeditions to many of the forest reserves in the country and serve on the boards/committees related to the conservation and protection of our natural heritage.

  2. Biological Biodiversity.  Malaysia is not only rich in its biological diversity but also unique because of the diversified ecosystems which cover the coastal peat swamps and the mangroves considered one of the richest in Asia; lowland and hill dipterocarp forests very rich in biodiversity; limestone hills with specialised plants and endemic species; the lower montane and montane with alpine vegetation of the Mt Kinabalu National Park (see Table 1).  The many forest reserves such as Pasoh FR with 941 species within a 50 ha area considered high in its biodiversity.  Accordingly, the country is considered as one of the 12 mega-diversity centres of the globe. A total of 43.53 percent (14.29 million ha) of the land area of the country are still under Permanent Reserved Forests (Table 2). The speaker also highlighted the many critical roles of forested areas ranging from water conservation, soil protection, beach erosion, breeding grounds for fishes, wild life protection, source of raw materials for pharmaceuticals, perfumery and cosmetics.  The speaker expressed sadness that, though many are aware of the importance of forests and and the flora and fauna that thrive in them, the biodiversity is being threatened with development and the pursuit of high income economy of the country.          

Table 1. The fauna and flora of Malaysia

Table 2. Permanent Reserved Forests in Malaysia

  3. Biodiversity and Economic Importance.   The rich biodiversity in our rain forests are sources of food and and as many as 2000 plant species are reported to have pharmaceutical and cosmetic values. Exotic Malaysian species such as Nepenthes, Paphiopedilum orchids are among those that have been propagated in foreign countries and source of good income in the horticultural business.  Many of state and national parks such as Kinabalu National Park, Mulu National Park and Tahan National Park are popular ecotourism destinations.  The economic potential of our biological resources is enormous and there are still many of these unique biological heritage such as  the numerous Rafflesia species, Paphiopedilum orchids, the mangrove forests on marble in Langkawi, the Malaysian tiger, birds and the orang-utan.

Diversity of Nepenthes

Diversity of microorganisms

4, Research and Conservation Efforts.  Considerable research and scientific expeditions have been undertaken over the years by the Forestry Department and subsequently the Forest Research Institut of Malaysia (FRIM), the research universities and the non-Government organisations particularly MNS, not only in listing the various species of fauna and flora but undertaking in-situ studies encompassing mangroves, swamp forests; logging systems and reforestation; hill dipterocarp forests and limestone hills.  Following the scientific expeditions, management plans for these forests are formulated such as for Endau-Rompin, Matang Mangroves, Kinabalu National Park.  
 Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) provides the following guidelines in the harvesting of the forests: sustainable utilization of timber and timber products; multiple use of forest products; protecting environmentally sensitive areas; environmentally friendly harvesting; enrichment and rehabilitation; local community participation; and appropriate regulation and enforcement   
However, the speaker moaned and expressed disappointment that many of the guidelines in SFM and proposals contained in the the National Biodiversity and Biotechnology Policy which details the objectives and strategies in the protection and conservation of our biodiversity and the accompanying proposed establishment of centres of excellence such as the National Biodiversity Institute or National History Museum, according to the speaker, have not been implemented.  He strongly proposed the approach of establishing world and national heritage sites as a conservation measure to conserve our biodiversity.  Among the criteria to qualify for world heritage site include that the proposed area has outstanding universal value; integrity; authenticity; has a management plan with conservation strategies;  funds and staff to run it and that the site is established for the benefit of humanity. The country already has a number of World Heritage Site, among them are Kinabalu National Park and Mulu National Park.  Other potential areas that can be considered include Taman Negara in Pahang; Danum Valley in Sabah; Lanjak Entiman, Batang Ai Sarawak; and Royal Belum in Perak.  Among the areas that can be considered as National Heritage Sites are Pasoh FR, Gunung Stong SP, Perlis SP, Matang Mangroves, Setiu Wetlands, Bukit Bauk UFP, Kenong FR, Bukit Larut FR, Gunung Ledang National Park, Bukit Fraser FR, Gunung Jerai FR and Merbuk Mangrove.

5. Concluding Remarks. Prof. Latif indicated that there is adequate knowledge of the plant biodiversity of the country but the fauna and the microorganisms in the ecosystems require more research effort.  We need to examine the status of endangered, vulnerable and threatened species and at the same time develop new techniques and technologies in assessing biodiversity. At the same time, assessment on the various efforts of in-situ studies and the status of the protected areas.  He suggested that we look at the National Policy on Biodiversity and strengthen the implementation of the various recommendations at the national and state levels.

6.  Acknowledgements. I would like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation to the Faculty of Science and Technology UKM for having organised this public lecture on a topic that is very important and having such an illustrious personality to deliver it. My thanks to Prof. Maketab for having posted the photos covering this public lecture in the Facebook which I have liberally used in this blog posting 

Section of the participants

The other section of the participants

Prof. Latif receiving a token of appreciation from the Dean

With, from right, Dean and moderator, Prof. Maketab, Prof. Latif 

Posted on 19/12/2015
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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Visit to a Coconut Smallholding in Kuala Selangor

The dwarf kelapa pandan palm

1.  It was the interest in agriculture that made me accept the invitation of Dato' Kamaruddin Kachar (Dato KK) to accompany him to visit a farm in the coconut growing region in Kuala Selangor on Wednesday December 16, 2015.  Dato KK has a three acre land in Kg Sungai Ramal Luar Kajang where he is cultivating the vacant unplanted two acre for a crop that will give him good return. Potential crops include bananas, agar wood and coconuts. The visit to the smallholding was basically to get a first hand knowledge on the growing and economic potential of kelapa pandan as an agricultural activity. The coconut smallholding is owned by Mr. Zahriman Alias, who was a retired police officer, born and went to school in the same small town as Dato KK i.e. Rembau in Negeri Sembilan. Mr. Zahriman briefed the group how he has acquired the farm in 1994. He was then the Deputy OCPD of the Kuala Selangor Police Contingent and sent words around that he was interested in purchasing land in the district. This piece which was then planted with oil palm with a six room wooden house was up for sale by a smallholder who was having marital problem and wanted cash for the sale immediately.  Due to the circumstances the transaction was done very quickly and RM 48, 000 changed hands.  Mr. Zahriman decided to grow 'kelapa pandan' and in addition, he has also gown pomelo and other citrus species, an apple mango tree, passionfruit and a lychee.  He also constructed a chicken coop where he raised 'kampung' chicken and turkey. He demolished the old wooden house and rebuilt a concrete 4 room house where he resides permanently now.
  2. The coconut palm is very much part of Malay culture and in the kampung, coconut is always part of the perennial tree orchard mixture.  It is considered as a complete tree, providing materials for the construction of a house - the trunks being used for pillars, the leaves used as roof; the nuts are utilised as food; the juice of young nuts as tonic when having fever; the midribs of leaves as broom; the young shoot as vegetable; the roots have medicinal properties.  Before the birth certificate existed, the coconut served as as a symbol indicating age of members of the household, as for each child born, a coconut seedling was planted. In the old days when an elderly person was asked of his age, he will point to the appropriate palm and said that he was as old as that tree.

  3.  I have also some nostalgic memories associated with coconut. When I graduated with a Diploma in Agriculture from the then College of Agriculture, Serdang I was posted as the Agriculture Assistant in-charge of the Federal Experiment Station Teluk Bharu, Hilir Perak in 1959 where coconut was the main crop being experimented.  I recollected assisting and supervising Dr. Ajit Singh's experimental plots and in the laying down of fertilizer trials and Dr. N.T Arasu, the plant breeder, on the germplasm collection obtained from different coconut growing region in the world such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka; undertaking hybridisation and evaluating the various hybrid progenies generated.  When the government launched the Coconut Replanting Scheme around 1962, I also assumed the additional tasks of being the first Supervisor of the Scheme for the Hilir Perak region, overseeing the old coconut in smallholdings being replanted with financial assistance from the Government under the Scheme.  Time has really passed.

Citrus trees among the  crops planted
Mr. Zahriman, the owner, under his vine of passionfruit

Collection of orchids at the farm
The chicken coop with the reared birds

With Dato KK in the farm

Standing around the load of young kelapa pandan which was served

    Posted on 17/12/2015
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