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   Foreigners illegally harvesting trees from Sabah forest reserves.

KOTA KINABALU: Foreigners are making a beeline to Sabah to illegally harvest the valuable agarwood or gaharu from forest reserves here.

Over the past year, Sabah Forest Department officials nabbed several Thai nationals who were found to be illegally harvesting agarwood at the Kalabakan forest reserve near the southwest Sabah district of Tawau.

Department deputy director Rahim Sulaiman said the incidence of illegal harvesting of the wood was not at a “serious level” yet.

“The state government has initiated various measures to conserve its agarwood by banning the harvest of the wood from state land and forest reserves since 2004,” he said after the launching of a seminar on agarwood plantations here yesterday.

Opening the seminar earlier, Plantation Indus­tries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok said annual agarwood exports from the country amounted to RM72mil a year.

He said in order for Malaysia’s agarwood sector to further develop, it was necessary for the trees to be cultivated in plantations.

He added that the Federal Government also wanted suggestions from entrepreneurs on what would be needed for them to establish downstream timber processing industries such as producing furniture.

Dompok said the national timber policy spelt out a target of 60% exports comprising processed timber products in the coming years.

In this regard, he said the growth of forest plantations in Sabah would also help the development of the timber processing industry in the state.

Later, Dompok witnessed the signing of loan agreements between government-linked Forest Plantation Development Sdn Bhd and six companies for the development of forest plantations nationwide.

Since 2006, the company had provided loans of nearly RM336mil for the development of 76,060ha of forest plantations.