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The ‘Best Model Forest Plantation’ award winner visited
Published on: Sunday, March 03, 2024
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Drone picture of Laran. (Pictures courtesy of Jawala Plantation Industries Sdn Bhd)
First in a series 

CAN Forest Management Units (FMU) work? Well, introduced in 1997 to implement long-term sustainable forest management with balanced attention to its economic, social and environmental elements, the best, youngest and smallest of them – Jawala Plantation which is barely 11,043ha – started only eight years ago in 2016, shows it can be profitable.

The opinion is none other than that of a senior Sabah Forestry Department officer.  

In an optimistic note and tribute, Musa bin Salleh, Deputy Chief Conservator of Forest, Sabah, said Jawala, winner of “The Best Model Forest Plantation” award, has “convinced” him it can be profitable: 

“Based on information from their trial harvesting (1ha of Laran and 1ha of Albizia and processed in a mill in Tawau), they can make profit. So, this is good news for the Forestry Department and also good news for the family of FMU (27) that implement plantations throughout the State.

Left to Right: Rahman, Musa, Cliff and Happysupina

“What we have heard generally is plantations are not profitable in Sabah because of high development costs being the main challenge for forest plantation development and low price of our planted timber, especially selling in the domestic market. 

“Congratulations to Jawala who convinced us that forest plantations can be profitable, one of the business ventures that can be undertaken,” he noted after leading 23 foresters from Sabah Forestry Department and 24 foresters from the Sarawak Forestry Department in a whirlwind visit to Jawala forest plantation in Sapulut on Feb 29.

The best of them all  

The gist that attracted the interest of these two powerful Borneo forestry departments is simple:          

In June 2023, Jawala Plantation Industries Sdn Bhd raised eyebrows when it was voted “Best Model Forest Plantation” in Malaysia award, clinching first place out of a field of 84 companies!

Albizia – popular plywood material. 

Laran – yellowish-whitish colours which is popular in Korea and Japan. 

The top dog award was created in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Malaysia Timber Industry Board (MTIB) and in a moment of glory, Deputy Prime Minister cum Plantations and Commodities, Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof presented the award to Rahman Khan, CEO of Jawala Plantations.        

Outstanding ESG 

Not only that, in September 2022, Jawala Plantation Industries Sdn Bhd also won the Malaysia Outstanding ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) Impact Corporate Excellence award.

The top awards boosted immeasurably its credibility and recognition, as JPISB is also a subsidiary of Jawala Inc – a company listed in the Singapore Exchange, specialised on sustainable forest management focussed on forest plantations.     

Asked for Sarawak’s interest to visit Jawala in Murut heartland Sapulut which is a good four-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu, Haji Happysupina bin Sait, Deputy Director of Forestry Department, Sarawak, said: 

“We are here to look at the best to learn how we can speed up improvement of our forest plantations as Sarawak have them too.”     

The Sarawak interest 

Asked what led to this all-Bornean visit to Jawala, Rahman explained: 

“In Oct 2023, I was actually invited to Kuching by the Sarawak Forestry Department to present a paper and share Jawala’s experience in developing forest plantation, so it was there that they expressed an interest to visit us and they found the right time while visiting a few of the Sabah Forestry Department’s projects.” 

Rahman briefing Sarawak foresters at the Laran forest plantation. 

But there’s no doubt that Jawala’s awards spotlighted its exceptional achievements, fostering a sense of pride especially for Sabah, and inspiring the Bornean foresters to strive for excellence.    

The two top awards explained 

So Rahman told Daily Express what the two awards were all about.  

“The first award that we got was an ESG Impact Corporate Excellence Award in September 2022. That was for the environmental award, our contribution to ESG. In my presentation, I told the visitors that we have taken our ESG very seriously, we report our ESG initiative every year to the Singapore Exchange and also to the public. 

“By virtue that we are listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange, sustainability is a big thing now, this financial year we will be reporting our financial climate disclosure which is compulsory, not so in Bursa Malaysia. So we engage the community very often.”

25MW of solar power

“They can see on the environmental side, we have used renewable energy. We are the only camp who use solar, no generators. Solar generated 25MW of electricity over the last seven years and are still functioning, only raining electricity is cut but on good dry days, it’s 24-hour solar power supply.

“We have done High Conservation Assessment, Social Impact Assessment, which resulted in the setting aside of additional areas for conservation. 

Towering Laran mother tree, named ‘Julie’. Large solar panels provide electricity 24 hours a day (right pic). 

“So, today, 31pc or 3,375ha of total concession area has been set aside for high conservation value. So, 31pc of 11,043ha makes me feel very confident that percentage wise, it is the biggest among the forest plantation licensees.”

Big increase in Conservation area  

“Originally, the conservation area was 1,000ha plus, but when our consultant Datuk Dr. John Payne carried out the conservation value assessment before we started off planting, we discovered 3,375ha contained sensitive issues within the concession. 

“We faced a choice between money and sacrifice. My Chief Operating Officer, Maxy Self and I met and we decided to sacrifice for a long-term purpose and be recognised for all the best practices,” he said. 

The most pleasing social change

“On the social side, we have contributed to the community here. We have adopted a school, do repairs for them, with piped water from our catchment area to the surrounding communities. 

“You can also see we have created employment here and on the governance side. If you look at our annual report, you can see we have a policy – anti-bribery, anti-corruption, our governance is very strong, we report that every year, that’s why we got that award,” Rahman elaborated. 

“But for the last eight years, the most pleasing thing for us was we have employed the locals surrounding our camp. In all, we have 104 employees – 96 are locals. 

“Today, the most pleasing thing for me is to see they are able to buy cars. If you visit the workers’ quarters, you see the garage with some cars. In the beginning, they only had motorbikes. Our best earning husband and wife team earn around RM4,500-RM4,800. So, we have taken them out of the B40 group. That’s the most inspiring story for me,” Rahman reflected.  

Best Model Forest Plantation award explained 

“The next award we got was ‘The Best Model Forest Plantation’ in Malaysia that was selected by the Ministry of Plantations and Commodities. 

“That award was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Malaysian Timber Industry Board. So they decided that they should select and encourage more governance, better model in forest plantation management by creating this award. 

“It was done very professionally, there was a Jury’s Panel, they actually visited the short-listed plantations throughout West Malaysia, Sarawak and in Sabah. So, we are very happy that we came out on top among 84 companies,” Rahman said.   

Crystal clear waterfall in high value conservation area – key water catchment. 

How does it feel to come out tops in a very challenging field of nearly a hundred big peers?

“I feel very pleased because we are the youngest company among the licensees. In such a short space of time, we managed but we have put in so much efforts. 

“I think that’s why we got the awards which cover everything – best management practices, ESG, the infrastructures that we have put in, our research, our MoU with Universiti Malaysia Sabah. I think they are very confident that we are here to stay, that we are very serious about sustainability. So I always have this slogan – what are we planting trees for, it’s to replace and substitute logs from the natural forest. 

“You can see for yourself here today what I meant by planting trees will lead to greater conservancy, sustainability and renewability of Sabah’s forest resources,” Rahman argued. 

Laran – understanding what market requires

From the presentation and driving across the plantation, it became clear that Jawala focusses a lot on two species – Laran and Albizia.

“You must understand we plant what the market requires, we plant what is suitable for this area, what grows best here. 

“When we came in here in 2015, we had a look around, there’s this Laran tree which grows naturally. So that’s was why it was selected and it’s very popular among the plywood manufacturers and you see the colour in Laran. 

“If you go to any Japanese restaurant the wood they use is this colour – yellowish whitish, it’s a favourite among Koreans and Japanese so they are already producing from the natural Laran, exporting to Japan and Korea. So since it is growing here naturally it’s the obvious choice and which the market wants,” Rahman was instructive.   

Interestingly, Jawala has 26 Laran mother trees within its concession, which are named after its female staff, the first one under CFO Julie.

“We don’t do tissue culture, we tried a small amount but that really didn’t work, so we use only seeds and fruits to germinate,” Rahman said.    

Laran & Albizia – both work commercially 

“Albizia which is an Indonesian species is very popular among the plywood manufacturers, also good for block board. That’s why we selected these species. We don’t plant anything here that is exotic but doesn’t work economically, where the market is not there and you have to develop the market, where the gestation is too long, having gone through the experience,” he said.

Tips on profitable industrial timber business

“For you to be profitable in this Industrial Timber Plantation (ITP) business, you have to harvest it as early as possible because as I said the price of this log at seven years or 10 years will not be much different. But delaying the gestation will cost you probably much higher. 

“Identifying suitable soil, identifying suitable species that can be harvested very quickly are important to be profitable in ITP,” Rahman underscored key reasons behind Jawala’s positive profitability outlook.     

Although the visit by the Sabah and Sarawak forestry departments was quite an event, it was not unusual, as Kyoto University Japan and twice, Swedish University of Agriculture and Sciences visited Jawala, the second time, brought Masters and PhD students for research.    

Plant only on degraded forests

“The policy of Sabah government is only plant on degraded forest, so how degraded was the forests? Let me tell you standing tree volume was only about 30 cubic metres per hectare and the average log size only 1.5-1.7cubic metres per log, not a very impressive area for commercial logging. 

“So we are the fourth one, three other people before us were here so we took salvage logging up, took the salvaged logs out and we did the planting within those areas,” Rahman noted.



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