KUCHING, 26 JULY 2017 – Forestry stakeholders in Sarawak must invest more in planted forest R&D to ensure productivity and sustainability of the state’s relatively young forest plantation. This was the call made by Professor Michael J. Wingfield at the “Pest and Disease” Workshop organized last Monday by SARAWAK FORESTRY Corporation (SFC). Wingfield is the current president of the IUFRO (International Union of Forest Research Organizations) and internationally renowned authority on forest health. He is also the founding-director of the Forests and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI).

In his keynote address at the workshop, Wingfield shared his vast experience and insights on the threats posed by pests and diseases to the well-being of forest plantations the world over. Workshop participants were warned of the ever-increasing threats of pests and diseases as evidenced by recorded discovery of a new pest species every 1.4 years since 1980 as compared to 6.3 years previously. This trend is expected to worsen in time to come ensuing potential loss of entire tree species if not addressed preemptively.

Wingfield also intimated that the impacts of pest and diseases could be more severe in the natural forests than in planted forests contrary to what is commonly believed. He brought up numerous examples of failed plantations in Latin America and South East Asia where the entire plantations or tree species had been wiped out resulting from the introduction of new pathogens from external sources.

Wingfield went on to emphasize that it is vital to “stay ahead of the game” in order to prevent catastrophic failures and this calls for concerted efforts of local and international agencies and institutions. He suggested that it is necessary for SFC, the timber industry and other stakeholders in Sarawak to engage relevant experts in planted forest R & D to identify local pests and diseases in the initial stage as well as provide first-hand training for local researchers through collaboration with international research and academic institutions.

“Forestry is a long-term business, and investment in research would eventually pay off,” Wingfield concluded.