KOTA KINABALU, Aug 8, 2014:

Over 15,000ha of oil palm land located close to the Sungai Kinabatangan or its tributaries within the region of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS) was found unsuitable for the crop as it is located in a flood prone area.

This was discovered through a spatial planning project that has been carried out in Kinabatangan since 2009.

Based on the findings, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu called on operators of such land — identified as being unsuitable for agriculture cultivation due to long term flooding in the Lower Kinabatangan area, particularly those close to the LKWS, — to be given back to the people and the state government by donating or conserving it as part as their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

“This is the most logical win-win situation for all stakeholders as the companies will be carrying out CSRs which would reduce human wildlife conflict and hopefully stabilises the Bornean orang-utan, Proboscis monkeys, Bornean pygmy elephant and hornbill populations from declining further in the Kinabatangan which is a global biodiversity hotspot,” said Ambu.

He said, in the past, the state government had given large areas to oil palm companies as part of the effort to encourage agricultural expansion in Sabah.

“It is only fair that they give a little back to the state now for conservation. Plus, these areas have been identified as not suitable or productive for agricultural development due to the fact that they are flood prone.

“With so much land demand for both economic crops and conservation in Lower Kinabatangan, we were surprised to find over 15,000ha of converted oil palm land in the region of the LKWS ended up wasted as planting oil palm is simply not commercially viable in patches that flood,” said Nicola Abram of Living Landscape Alliance (LiLA), who headed the project, now known as SPaCES.

The SPaCES Project is a spatial planning project that aims to provide solutions to the state government on how to promote sustainability, biodiversity conservation, and maintenance of ecosystem services for local communities, whilst meeting its development targets.

Abram has been working with key partners from SWD and the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD), together with non-governmental organisation Hutan — Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme — as well as academic institutions, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, Imperial College London and Danau Girang Field Centre.

“We used satellite images from 2010 to 2011 and did six months of ground work going from Lot 1 of the LKWS up to Lot 10c to understand and ensure that the satellite data matched with the reality on the ground,” explained Abram, who is also the founder and co-director of LiLA, which is partnered with Hutan-KOCP.

The results of this study was published in a peer reviewed journal, PLOS One with the paper entitledSynergies for Improving Oil Palm Production and Forest Conservation in Floodplain Landscapes.

Detailed spatial planning techniques can assist the government agencies, land use decision makers and planners to understand landscapes and see the “bigger picture” of their importance for reasons such as flooding risk, agricultural suitability and wildlife use and movement.

Understanding how to use landscapes is important in helping officials and industry to make better choices in terms of land allocation and land usage, minimising future risk of conflict and wastage such as designating unsuitable flood prone areas for agriculture.

“As we have to manage human wildlife conflict at a great cost, we saw the potential of using spatial planning to better understand the landscape of the Lower Kinabatangan and then inform and advise the State Government to minimise conflict and loss,” said Ambu.

On the whole issue, Abram said: “Identifying the problem is the first step to solving it. We now know that certain areas within the Lower Kinabatangan and Segama are not suitable for conversion into oil palm cultivation as that would result in financial loss for smallholders or company, so what should be done with these areas?

“These are questions that the study cannot answer but working together with all the stakeholders, I am sure we can find solutions together.”

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