Minister calls for research into Brunei forests

James Kon

Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali bin Apong has called for continuous scientific research of the natural environment of Brunei’s forests.

In his keynote address yesterday at the ‘Brunei Darussalam Conference On Forest: Forests And Biodiversity: Unveiling Its Economic Potential’, in conjunction with the Brunei Mid-Year Conference and Exhibition (MYCE) 2021, he said, “We need to pursue our scientific research initiatives continuously and objectively. We need more understanding, knowledge, and insights on how our natural environment works.

“I believe that there are many things that have yet to be discovered and remain questionable to us. The conduct of more research pertaining to our forest, biodiversity, and environment will give us more appreciation and knowledge on how to manage them properly.

“The results and findings of these researches can be a valuable input in our decision making and the formulation of effective policy directions towards sustainable forest management.

“Brunei Darussalam is blessed to have 72 per cent of its total land area still forested, and most of it is still unexplored and in pristine condition.

“The resources and the biodiversity within, have the potential to provide a wide range of forest goods and services that would contribute to Brunei Darussalam’s economic diversification and growth.

Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali bin Apong delivers his speech. PHOTO: JAMES KON

“To grow and diversify the country’s economy away from the oil and gas sector, particularly into industries such as construction, agriculture, and service industries such as eco-tourism, we need to be conscious of the possible negative impacts these activities will have on our natural environment.

“These include clearing of forest areas to make way for these activities that result in deforestation and building dams for irrigation purposes, which may cause floods resulting in net forest loss, as well as loss of wildlife.

“That is why in the agriculture industry, it is important for us to consider modern or vertical farming, which includes different use of land to ensure the highest yield per hectare, instead of simply using up more land that only produces low yield.

“Forests provide us with the air we breathe, timber that we use, food for our sustenance, medicines to cure sickness and other essentials for our well-being.

“Forests also support environmental stability, provides watershed protection, prevent soil erosion, mitigate climate change and are also habitats for wildlife.

“However, despite our understanding of their importance and how dependent we are on them, the 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) reported that the world’s forest area continues to decrease.

“Fortunately, records show for the last three decades, the rate of global forest loss has been declining from 7.8 million hectares per year, to around 4.7 million hectares per year in the last decade.

“This slowing down effect could be due to the reduction in forest expansion.

“The same report also highlights that Asia has the highest net gain of forest area in 2010-2020: about 1.2 million hectares per year. These positive developments can be attributed to the increase in the protected areas, afforestation initiatives, the natural expansion of forests and most importantly, improvement of forest management practices in the region.

“Nevertheless, despite these positive outcomes, deforestation and forest degradation remain a major global challenge.

“Socio-economic pressures co-ntribute to the cause of deforestation and forest degradation that include land conversion for agricultural expansion and infrastructure development, unsustainable logging activities and forest fires.

“The reduction in the global forest cover necessitates us to re-examine our forest management strategies. This reassessment will not only strengthen the production of forest goods and services, but also boost our economic development initiatives.”

The minister also highlighted the importance of nature-based solutions (NbS), which have been gaining recent attention as an effective action to address important global challenges such as climate change, human health, food and water security, natural disasters and biodiversity loss.

“NbS, as defined by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are actions to address societal challenges through the protection, sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems that benefit both biodiversity and human well-being,” he said.

Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali urged forestry and other relevant sectors to consider NbS as part of the approach in strategic planning for environmental and/or socio-economic purposes.

He added, “NbS should be at the core of our effort to remain resilient in facing future challenges, especially in the areas of food security, health and economic growth in general.

“The protection, conservation, and management of the forest resources, are crucial not just for socio-economic importance, but for our environment. Sustaining these resources is paramount for the present and future generations.

“Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) plays a very important role against this backdrop. SFM balances the socio-economic and environmental relevance of forests and has been an integral part of policy direction and prescriptive for global authorities in forestry, including Brunei Darussalam.

“We believe that effective strategies and implementation of SFM will provide unified benefits to us all, such as sustaining the economy; protecting biodiversity; improving ecosystem services such as water quality, air quality or soil productivity; and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.”