While some people worry about palm oil production causing excessive deforestation, Malaysia is setting the record straight. A leader in sustainable forest management, about 55% of Malaysia’s land area is under forest cover. (Compare that with just 33% in the U.S.) But how much of Malaysia’s land is devoted to palm oil production, and will the global demand for palm oil devour more forests?
Although palm oil is one of its main exports, Malaysia limits palm oil cultivation to 6 million hectares (about 14.8 million acres). It’s almost reached that limit. Currently, Malaysia has about 5.8 million hectares of oil palm plantations.
Where will the rest come from? It will come from areas currently used for less environmentally friendly crops such as rubber, cocoa, tea and rice. Additional forests will not be cleared.
Malaysia is also setting aside 5 million hectares to establish and preserve forested corridors to allow its wildlife, including Malayan tigers, to roam freely. This required careful negotiation and planning with its neighboring countries of Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei. A similar initiative between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei is protecting 20 million hectares of rainforest along Malaysia’s borders, in part to protect key elephant habitats.
Even better: Malaysia has reforested and is now protecting land in its biodiverse Sabah that was once devastated by logging and drought. Where it could easily have been converted for agriculture, instead it is now classified by the government as a forest reserve and protected by law. Already, wildlife species such as orangutans have reclaimed the area.
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