That is one of Jeff Vincent and Rozali Mohamed Ali’s most interesting conclusions in a new book titled ’Environment and Development in a Resource-Rich Economy, Malaysia Under the New Economic Policy’, published by the Harvard Institute for International Development.
Between 1966 and 1981, Peninsular Malaysia lost about 236,000 hectares of forest each year and its total forest area fell from 9.65 to 6.82 million hectares. Rubber and oil palm plantations replaced much of the forest lost. However, by the late 1980s the rate of conversion slowed, ’as industrialization and urbanization caused the rural labor market to tighten and agricultural returns to fall.’ The area in agriculture grew 520,000 hectares in the seven years between 1974 and 1981, but only 160,000 hectares in the nine years that followed.
Based on a regression analysis of the region’s 65 districts, the authors found that deforestation rates increased as per capita incomes rose until districts reached an average income of 1,100 Malaysian Ringgit, after which they fell sharply. By 1987, practically all of Peninsular Malaysia’s districts had income levels higher than that.
Not only did deforestation rates fall, but farmers also left significant areas ’idle’ and allowed them to begin to revert to secondary forest. As rural youth moved to the cities to obtain manufacturing and public sector jobs and the farm population aged farmers apparently decided to take more marginal farm lands out of production.
The book also provides a solid account of the debates within the Malaysian government regarding forest policies and discusses whether or not timber depletion on the Peninsula has been excessive and the impact of policies designed to promote domestic timber processing. These discussions form part of a broader examination of development and environmental issues in Peninsular Malaysia, including topics such as the impact of petroleum development, water supplies, marine fisheries, and pollution.
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The book can be purchased from Harvard University Press by contacting the following web site: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/Web_Order_Information/ordering_list.html