Sime Darby Foundation and Royal Society's SEARRP Embark on World's Largest Ecological Experimental Project in Maliau Basin, Sabah


Maliau Basin, Sabah, 29 January 2011 – Sime Darby Foundation (YSD) and Royal Society’s South East Asian Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP) have embarked on the world’s largest ecological experimental project in Maliau Basin in Sabah.

The 10-year project, called Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE), is aimed at understanding the impacts of forest modification (conversion of forests into oil palm plantations) on the biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and provision of ecosystem services. The research is focused on climatology, hydrology, biogeochemistry, plant ecology and animal ecology.

The RM30 million SAFE project, the world’s first integrated scientific research programme in this field, is funded by YSD and will see leading scientists in their respective fields assembled to undertake the research during the 10-year period.

The research team is led by Dr. Rob Ewers from UK’s Imperial College and Dr Glen Reynolds from the Royal Society’s SEARRP, and will include scientists from Oxford University, Cambridge University, Stanford University, Zurich University as well as Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

The SAFE Project was officially launched by Prime Minister YAB Dato’ Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak today. In conjunction with the launching of the SAFE Project, Mohd Najib also officially opened the Maliau Basin Studies Center where the facilities for the SAFE project are located.

Also present at the launching ceremony were Sabah Chief Minister–cum-Chairman of Yayasan Sabah, YAB Datuk Panglima Musa Haji Aman; Sime Darby Chairman-cum- Chairman of Sime Darby Foundation, YABhg Tun Musa Hitam; and Yayasan Sabah Executive Director Y.Bhg. Tan Sri Datu Khalil Bin Datu Hj. Jamalul.

In his speech, Mohd Najib applauded YSD’s efforts in funding the SAFE Project as it will not only benefit the academia through invaluable research findings, but also result in numerous other benefits to the country, the palm oil industry, the Sime Darby Group and the community at large through public education, capacity-building, employment opportunities and benefits to the local economy.

“The Project is also in line with the Malaysia Government’s commitment to conserve the environment and addresses other important issues facing the world today, namely climate change and global warming as a result of deforestation,” he added.

The Prime Minister said the SAFE Project will make a major contribution to the understanding of how biodiversity can be conserved and maintained in plantation landscapes, and address the question of how the economic benefits that flow from the oil palm industry can be balanced by the need for sustainable development and environmental conservations.

The Prime Minister noted that Malaysia will benefit from this project as the research findings will be shared between the researchers, YSD and Yayasan Sabah. It will also see at least four Malaysian scientists participating in the research project as well as several doctoral students from local universities.

In addition, the Project will also provide employment and training opportunities for Malaysian staff and technicians. Currently, 17 Malaysians are involved as full-time research assistants, and this number will increase over the tenure of the project.

Tun Musa said as a responsible plantation company and leading member of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Sime Darby is fully prepared to support long-term research which tackles some of the more critical issues of the business, backed by independent, extensive and high quality scientific research.

“Viewed in totality, this project will make a major contribution to sustainable palm oil management and the conservation of biodiversity while providing a major industry-wide contribution to sustainable plantation management, the implementation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) guidelines and the conservation of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.

“The project will also help establish solid and scientifically sound guidelines for both new and existing plantations, as well as providing future assessment of how the preservation of forests within plantations will benefit the plantation and agricultural industry as well as society at large,” he added.

YSD’s funding of the project is also intended to provide PhD scholarships to 8 young scientists, 6 senior post-doctoral positions (of which half will be offered to Malaysians), salaries and training for a large team of locally recruited research assistants/laboratory technicians, development of extensive research infrastructure and facilities in Sabah (including the most advanced facilities for carbon measurement), as well as funding for project workshops, website and public awareness through media and other programmes.

As the research programme develops and expands, links will be made with other Malaysian and international research institutions with the SAFE Project acting as a platform for international scientific collaboration.

Dr. Reynolds of SEARRP said the key objective of the project will be to establish a detailed understanding of how best to conserve forests within plantations, protect the species and ecosystems they support; identify species which are at risk of local extinction; assess the role of forest patches within plantations as ‘stepping stone’ habitats that allow movement of animals and plants between larger forest areas; propose habitat restoration strategies; and ultimately minimise the environmental impacts of oil palm plantations.

“SAFE, as a long-term major experiment, will be maintained over several decades to meet the project’s mission, aims and objectives. Results of the study will be disseminated to the industry and other interest groups, academia and the public in the form of annual reports, scientific research papers, presentations to local, regional and international conferences as well as through media reports and websites,” he added.

SAFE will be managed and coordinated through SEARRP, which has a 25-year history of managing large-scale research projects and facilitating collaborative scientific programmes in Malaysia. SEARRP is based at the Danum Valley Field Centre in Sabah and uses the facilities at the Maliau Basin Studies Center for the SAFE project.

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Last Updated:
04 Dec 2018
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