KUALA LUMPUR – The ecosystem of Cameron Highlands, a popular holiday destination and a major vegetable growing area due to its mild climate, must be controlled through various effective measures to ensure its sustainability.
Since the recent incident of mud floods and landslides in the highlands, as usual, various parties have been playing the blame game for failing to protect and manage God’s gift (land).
The disaster which struck Kampung Raja, Ringlet town and Bertam Valley in Cameron Highlands on Nov 5 resulted in the loss of five lives and more than 90 victims from 28 families evacuated to the Ringlet community hall.
Dean of the Agriculture Faculty of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Prof Dr Abdul Shukor Juraimi said agriculture activities would not damage or destroy the environment if carried out properly in a systematic and sustainable manner as practised in developed countries.
He said in view of the main cause of the series of disasters in Cameron Highlands being illegal clearing of large tracts of land for vegetable farming, one of the solutions was to use the vertical farming method to reduce opening up of land for agriculture activities.
The method involves growing vegetables and crops vertically and on terraced land which yields high output despite the limited land use.
“This agriculture method emphasises on yields per unit of area which saves on space and is an alternative to the conventional cultivation method which requires a lot of land.
“Opening of new areas and carrying out agriculture activities on river banks or hill slopes should be avoided and prohibited altogether,” he said when contacted.
Abdul Shukor said guidelines aimed at making Cameron Highlands sustainable and which combined the thoughts and ideas of various parties including government agencies, academicians, scientists, geologists and policy makers should be drawn up.
He said the guidelines must be strictly followed and adherence monitored continuously, and enforcement of the law tightened.
“This involves all components of the ecosystem in Cameron Highlands including the human resources, natural land resource, rivers, socio-economy of the area and eco-tourism activities which impact the sustainability of Cameron Highlands,” he added.
Abdul Shukor also suggested that the farm operators and workers in Cameron Highlands be taught and exposed to the effects of agriculture activities that are not environment-friendly.
“They must be given awareness on the importance of environmental conservation and on the adverse impact of uncontrolled use of fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals on the environment,” he said.
Prof Dr Shamsudin Jusop from UPM’s Land Management Department, said illegal clearing of land and felling of trees had caused the land to lose fertility and farmers were forced to use a lot of fertilisers to boost their crops’ growth.
“We know very well that the forest is a sustainable ecosystem even with the heavy tropical rainfall. The trees in the forest with their extensive canopy and root system are able to reduce the impact of the erosive rainfall.
“Once the trees are gone, rain water fall to the ground, breaking the soil structure which accelerates soil erosion. The fertile topsoil that supports plant growth is gone forever, leaving behind the nutrient deficient subsoil on which the farmers grow their crops.
“No wonder high amounts of fertilisers are used to keep their agricultural business going. To sustain crop production on slopes in the highlands, we need to protect the topsoil at all costs, or else we are heading for disaster in due course,” he said.
Shamsudin said disasters could be avoided if the highland farmers and residents resorted to Good Agricultural Practices as suggested by the Malaysian Agriculture Department. – BERNAMA