Media Statement: Deforestation for durian plantations poses serious long-term risks to industry’s productivity and profitability

Download the statement in pdf format: Deforestation for durian plantations poses serious long-term risks to industry_s productivity and profitability

We refer to the recent news report by The Star’s Sim Leoi Leoi and Ong Han Sean: ‘Jungle’s goodness gone – and it’s legal’, on 23 October 2018. We are concerned that the durian, Southeast Asia’s beloved ‘king of fruits’ and such a culturally significant element of this region, is turning into the next new monoculture crop driving yet more deforestation and biodiversity loss in Malaysia.

This not only causes the destruction of critical habitat for wide-ranging animals such as tigers, elephants, primates, and hornbills – it also reduces the numbers of the very pollinators that are necessary for durian fruit production, and which the durian industry therefore heavily relies on for profit.

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Musang King durians for sale in Peninsular Malaysia. COPYRIGHT: PIERRE-MICHEL FORGET

Unlike other monoculture crops such as oil palm and rubber, the Durio zibethinus durian tree is native to Malaysia, a natural component of our unique tropical ecosystem. As it cannot self-pollinate, it requires a specific native pollination system that has evolved over millennia, which involves a unique, complex, and specialised set of interactions between the tree and the wild animal pollinators that it depends on. Research has shown that the only truly efficient natural pollinators of the durian trees are the plant-visiting bats of the family Pteropodidae (see Project Pteropus press release: ‘Durian industry may suffer without endangered fruit bats’ for further information).

Commonly referred to as ‘fruit bats’, this vitally important animal group is the most effective at performing natural durian pollination, providing an essential and irreplaceable service to the durian industry for free. Yet Malaysia’s long-distance durian pollinators, the giant fruit bats known as flying foxes (Pteropus hypomelanus and Pteropus vampyrus), are already severely threatened by hunting. Any further removal of their forest habitat and food resources will continue to reduce the effectiveness of their role in durian fruit production. On top of this, the durian-pollinating Cave Nectar Bat (Eonycteris spelaea) is threatened by uncontrolled limestone quarrying. Any removal of forest around or near limestone karsts will reduce the habitat suitability of these caves, and will also prevent the bats from travelling further to the durian farms that are in need of pollination.

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Video-trap footage showing a flying fox pollinating durian flowers. COPYRIGHT: RIMBA

Although there is some preliminary research suggesting that the Asian Giant Honeybee (Apis dorsata) can also serve as a secondary pollinator in areas with no bat pollinators, it is restricted to a strictly supporting role with greatly reduced fruit production – and this threatened insect group is also highly dependent on pristine rainforest habitat for its survival.

Therefore, destroying pollinator habitats and food resources in order to establish durian monoculture simply does not make good business sense. Companies that engage in this practice are prematurely destroying the very future profits that they hope to derive from their durian business in the first place. In the absence of our native, natural pollinators of durian trees, farmers would have to invest extra time, labour, and money to hand-pollinate their trees.

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Giant honeybee (Apis dorsata) feeding on pollen of durian. COPYRIGHT: SHEEMA AZIZ / RIMBA

Other serious impacts of deforestation, such as carbon emissions, soil erosion, sedimentation, loss of water supply, increased flood risks, etc., are already well documented and have been repeatedly highlighted. Moreover, planting of durian in inappropriate locations such as hillsides could potentially cause landslides (‘Residents scoff at proposal to plant durian trees at Gunung Panjang’, Malay Mail, 5 December 2017). On top of this, Musang King plantations are now also encroaching on the rights of indigenous Orang Asli communities, and threatening their livelihoods and traditions (‘Musang King durian plantation owners blockade jungle roads of orang asli’, The Star, 31 July 2018).

We therefore wish to highlight, reiterate, and emphasise this very serious impact of deforestation-driven durian to all relevant parties. We call on the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, the Department of Agriculture, the wider durian industry, and individual durian farmers to think long-term and pursue good agricultural practices for growing durian that is sustainable, contributes to healthy ecosystems, and provides a future for the Malaysian durian industry and Malaysian durian lovers.

Suggested practices are to prioritise converting previously tended agricultural land to durian orchards rather than clearing native forest for durian farming, establishing new durian plantings in appropriately situated areas, avoiding pure monocrops by intercropping with other fruit trees, and integrating low-impact and organic practices into pest and tree management. Such methods will ensure the preservation of the pollinator habitat and food resources that will help attract the necessary animal pollinators to durian farms. By ensuring the survival of these crucial pollinator communities, this will also help to guarantee the long-term longevity and viability of our local durian industry.

Such conservation and sustainable use of Malaysia’s wild durian pollinators is in line with the Principles and Goals of our country’s National Policy on Biological Diversity (2016-2025), which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources (KATS). Also, as Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and a member of the Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries (LMMC), such a progressive move would also demonstrate Malaysia’s commitment to the CBD’s explicitly identified priority on the ‘Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators’. Indeed, the CBD states (see also https://www.cbd.int/agro/pollinator.shtml):

“The overall objective of this plan of action is to promote coordinated action worldwide to safeguard wild and managed pollinators and promote the sustainable use of pollination services, which is a recognized vital ecosystem service for agriculture and for the functioning and health of ecosystems.”

As such, we invite all relevant and interested parties to work with us on a coordinated and collaborative initiative to identify, encourage, support, and promote durian production practices that are deforestation-free, biodiversity-friendly, and respectful of indigenous rights. This would be a particularly fitting time to start taking action, as the week of 24-31 October this year is the official International Bat Week.

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Island Flying Fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) on Tioman Island, Malaysia. COPYRIGHT: SHEEMA AZIZ / RIMBA

Signed,

Dr. Sheema Abdul Aziz, Co-founder & President, Rimba (email sheema AT rimbaresearch DOT org)

Lindsay Gasik, Durian Tour Organizer (Instagram @durianwriter; email lindsay AT yearofthedurian DOT com)

Signed in support:

  1. Miss Ng Wen Qing (Nuvista)
  2. Mr. Surin Suksuwan (Member, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas)
  3. Ms. Justine Vaz (General Manager, The Habitat Foundation)
  4. Dr. Yong Kien Thai (University of Malaya)
  5. Loo Jey Sern (Student, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus)
  6. Mr. Arvind Devadasan (Student, Universiti Sains Malaysia)
  7. Mrs. Joanna de Rozario (NTFP-EP – Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme)
  8. Dr. Nur Atiqah (MCKC – Malaysia Cave and Karst Conservancy)
  9. Mr. Raphe van Zevenbergen (Co-Founder, Lang Tengah Turtle Watch)
  10. Ms. Ummi Nadiah Rosli (Project Leader, Communications; The Forest Trust)
  11. Mr. Mohd Abdul Muin Md Akil (Universiti Sains Malaysia)
  12. Mr. Lau Chai Ming (Reef Check Malaysia)
  13. Miss Elisa Panjang (Danau Girang Field Centre)
  14. Miss Long Seh Ling (Universiti Malaysia Terengganu)
  15. Ms. Natasha Zulaikha (Conservation Officer, MYCAT – Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers)
  16. Mr. Nicholas Tan Wei Cheng (Universiti Sains Malaysia)
  17. Mr. Sim Kee Kong (The Forest Trust)
  18. Dr. Jarina Mohd Jani (Universiti Malaysia Terengganu)
  19. Dr. Dzaeman Dzulkifli (Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Center)
  20. Ms. Celine Ch’ng (Independent)
  21. Ken Yeong (Innovation Manager, The Forest Trust)
  22. Mr. Mohamad Izereen Amat Mukri (Merapoh Rainforest Station, Fuze-Ecoteer)
  23. Mr. Prasad Vasudevon (Independent)
  24. Ms. Alicia Solana Mena (MEME – Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants)
  25. Miss Aini Hasanah Abd Mutalib (Malaysian Primatological Society; Universiti Sains Malaysia)
  26. Mr. Rushan Abdul Rahman (Data For A Cause)
  27. Mr. Daniel Quilter (Merapoh Rainforest Station)
  28. Nazirul Amin Azmi (Reef Check Malaysia)
  29. Ms. Stephanie Santigo (APE Malaysia)
  30. Ms. Ange Tan (Project Coordinator, Wild Asia)
  31. Mrs. Noorainie Awang Anak (Independent)
  32. Dr. Forest Ang (Independent)
  33. Dr. Nadine Ruppert (Senior Lecturer, Universiti Sains Malaysia)
  34. Ms. Nur Izzati Roslan (Juara Turtle Project)
  35. Dr. Reza Azmi (Executive Direction & Founder, Wild Asia)
  36. Dr. Yek Sze Huei (Senior Lecturer, Monash University Malaysia)
  37. Dr. Mohd-Azlan Jayasilan (Associate Professor, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak)
  38. Mr. Ronald Oblander (Independent, former Peace Corps volunteer in Sarawak)
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Press Release: New State Park to Strengthen Biodiversity Protection in Malaysia

KUALA TERENGGANU, 15 August – Malaysia’s Terengganu state government announced today that it has designated 10,386 hectares of land formerly slated for logging as a new protected area for conservation. This new state park in the Kenyir region of Terengganu is phase one of a much larger conservation project that lies within a globally important Tiger Conservation Landscape and critical wildlife corridor.

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The creation of this protected area and its ongoing management is a collaborative effort involving the Terengganu state government, and local nonprofit organization Rimba, in partnership with Rainforest Trust and Panthera/Woodland Park Zoo.

“This new protected area not only brings more key wildlife habitat under protection, but also protects vital forested watersheds that provide important ecosystem services to the people of Terengganu,” said Dr. Sheema Abdul Aziz, President of Rimba.

Estimated at more than 130 million years old, the dipterocarp forest in the Lawit-Cenana State Park is now protected from logging and secured from further development.

“The importance of this area simply cannot be underestimated,” said Rainforest Trust Chief Executive Officer Dr. Paul Salaman. “The creation of the new park is a rare and unparalleled opportunity to protect a spectacular and imperiled tropical forest harboring what is certainly one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring predators – the Critically Endangered Malayan Tiger.”

The forests of the new park contain some of the highest biodiversity in Asia and are home to 18 highly threatened mammal species, including the Asian Elephant, Sunda Pangolin, Asian Tapir, Dhole and White-handed Gibbon. Six of Malaysia’s eight wild cat species prowl these forests, including the Malayan Tiger.

“These apex predators face tremendous pressure from poaching, fuelled by the illegal trade in their body parts for traditional Chinese medicine,” said Dr. Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, lead investigator of Rimba’s Harimau Selamanya project and Associate Professor at Sunway University. Continue reading

Publication update 21: Project Pteropus press release: Durian Industry May Suffer Without Endangered Fruit Bats

Flying foxes pollinate regionally important fruit crop

Kuala Lumpur, 19 September – Scientists here have discovered that Southeast Asia’s highly popular durian tree is pollinated by locally endangered fruit bats known as flying foxes.

By putting camera traps in durian trees on Tioman Island, Malaysia, researchers collected video evidence showing the island flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) pollinating durian flowers, leading to the production of healthy durian fruit. The study has just been published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

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Still shots from a video recording of a flying fox feeding on durian flower nectar.

The spiky tropical durian fruit is highly prized throughout its native region. A ubiquitous icon of Southeast Asian culture, it is also a lucrative industry, generating millions of US dollars in local and international trade. And these economic profits owe a huge debt to bats.

Commonly referred to as flying foxes, large fruit bats of the genus Pteropus are severely threatened by hunting and deforestation. They are often sold and eaten as exotic meat due to an unsubstantiated belief that consuming them can help cure asthma and other respiratory problems.

On top of this, they are also persecuted and killed as agricultural pests, as some people claim that the bats cause damage and economic loss by feeding on cultivated fruits. Consequently, these factors have led to severe declines in flying fox populations worldwide.

Yet these bats actually play very important roles as seed dispersers and pollinators in rainforests, especially on islands. The disappearance of flying foxes could thus have disastrous repercussions for tropical ecosystems. Now, this international team of researchers from Malaysia, France, India, and Thailand, in collaboration with Tree Climbers Malaysia, has found that Southeast Asia’s durian supply could be affected too. Continue reading