Right time to identify economic potential of rainforest biodiversity

|    Azlan Othman    |

THE time could be right to identify the economic potential of Brunei Darussalam’s rich rainforest biodiversity and make the bold step of taking advantage of the country’s conservation efforts for this important natural heritage.

Speaking at the official opening of the five-day 11th Flora Malesiana Symposium at Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) yesterday, Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali bin Haji Apong also noted that Brunei has identified and studied rare, threatened and special plants in the past and that it would be logical to preserve these specimens and gain some economic returns from them.

“Perhaps we should further study our findings [of these rare plants] and view them from the vantage point of possible commercialisation, for example tropical orchids for horticulture. Research findings on these plants could lead to an important development in medicine or even valuable natural ingredients for cosmetics,” the minister said.

Brunei Darussalam has one of the richest rainforest biodiversities in the world, despite its small land area.

The country is home to at least 6,000 species of vascular plants and accounted for 644 amphibians, birds, and reptile species – including endemic and threatened species.

Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali added that due to the Brunei’s forest conservation initiatives, the country scored highly in the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) 2017 Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific report, ranking the sultanate second in Southeast Asia with 72.1 per cent forest cover behind Lao PDR, which has 81.3 per cent forest cover.

Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali bin Haji Apong presents a memento to Scientific Director of Naturalis Biodiverity Centre and Vice Chairperson of Malenisia Professor Dr Erik Smets. – AZLAN OTHMAN

“Knowing the importance of biodiversity, the conservation efforts of Brunei have led to the sustainable use of these resources,” he said. “We believe that the output of this gathering would influence our capacities in identifying areas that hold economic potential.

“We have to consider this as a challenge. We are in the proper time to develop a business model to showcase sustainable biodiversity conservation and other related initiatives.

It is high time to generate resources to support our advocacies and at the same time increase our contributions to the economy.

“Perhaps we should invite some business development experts or economic managers to appreciate our advocacies and develop an appropriate economic portfolio to sustain our rainforest conservation and resource use undertakings, to prevent untoward circumstances that would endanger our natural resources.”

UBD is hosting the 11th Flora Malesiana Symposium, a triennial event hosted between European and Asian universities and botanic gardens, from July 1-5.

Present at the opening ceremony were UBD Vice -Chancellor Datin Dr Hajah Anita Binurul Zahrina binti Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wijaya Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Aziz, senior officers at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism, UBD principal officers, sponsors, invited quests, staff and students.

Held in Borneo for the first time, the symposium is jointly organised by the Environmental and Life Sciences Programme of the Faculty of Science (FOS) and the Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER) of UBD. It is sponsored by Flora Malesiana and Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd.

The event emphasises the exchange of horticultural knowledge, competencies and actions for plant conservation among botanic gardens via the sharing of cutting-edge research and results, thus creating a network of knowledge that can assist in both utilising and appreciating the rich flora of the Malesiana region (Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, East Timor and Papua New Guinea).

Attended by participants from 22 different countries, the symposium focuses on the themes of taxonomy, ecology and conservation, and features a total of 173 oral presenters and 70 poster presenters.

Among the renowned invited speakers include Dr Jun Wen, Dr Max MJ Van Balgooy, Professor Peter Daniel Wilf, Professor Tetsukazu Yahara and Professor Pieter Baas from botanical gardens around the world.