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From Forest Landscape to Agricultural Landscape in the Developing Tropical Country of Malaysia: Pattern, Process, and Their Significance on Policy

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Abstract

Agricultural expansion and deforestation are spatial processes of land transformation that impact on landscape pattern. In peninsular Malaysia, the conversion of forested areas into two major cash crops—rubber and oil palm plantations—has been identified as driving significant environmental change. To date, there has been insufficient literature studying the link between changes in landscape patterns and land-related development policies. Therefore, this paper examines: (i) the links between development policies and changes in land use/land cover and landscape pattern and (ii) the significance and implications of these links for future development policies. The objective is to generate insights on the changing process of land use/land cover and landscape pattern as a functional response to development policies and their consequences for environmental conditions. Over the last century, the development of cash crops has changed the country from one dominated by natural landscapes to one dominated by agricultural landscapes. But the last decade of the century saw urbanization beginning to impact significantly. This process aligned with the establishment of various development policies, from land development for agriculture between the mid 1950s and the 1970s to an emphasis on manufacturing from the 1980s onward. Based on a case study in Selangor, peninsular Malaysia, a model of landscape pattern change is presented. It contains three stages according to the relative importance of rubber (first stage: 1900–1950s), oil palm (second stage: 1960s–1970s), and urban (third stage: 1980s–1990s) development that influenced landscape fragmentation and heterogeneity. The environmental consequences of this change have been depicted through loss of biodiversity, geohazard incidences, and the spread of vector-borne diseases. The spatial ecological information can be useful to development policy formulation, allowing diagnosis of the country’s “health” and sustainability. The final section outlines the usefulness of landscape analysis in the policy-making process to prevent further fragmentation of the landscape and forest loss in Malaysia in the face of rapid economic development.

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Notes

  1. The forested area in 1956 is not available. Thus, the estimation is based on area of forest in 1960, which is the nearest year to 1956 for which data were available.

  2. Class I, high potential for mining; Class II, suitable for wide range of agricultural crops; Class III, suitable for restricted range of agricultural crops; Class IV, suitable for productive forest; and Class V, not suitable for mineral, agriculture, or forestry but only for catchment area and recreation.

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Acknowledgments

This study was partly funded by Research University Grant UKM-OUP-ASPL-6/2007, courtesy of the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia. We would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers and Professor Stephen Dovers for their constructive comments and suggestions, which helped us to improve the contents and presentation of this paper. However, the usual disclaimers apply.

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Correspondence to Saiful Arif Abdullah.

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Abdullah, S.A., Hezri, A.A. From Forest Landscape to Agricultural Landscape in the Developing Tropical Country of Malaysia: Pattern, Process, and Their Significance on Policy. Environmental Management 42, 907–917 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-008-9178-3

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