Wednesday, December 8

Illegal to import plants without permit – director


KOTA KINABALU: The next time you are planning to import live plants from anywhere outside of Sabah, even from as near as the Federal Territory of Labuan, think again because it is illegal.

“It is a serious problem … we have confiscated many,” Agriculture Department director Idrus Shafie said yesterday.

“The Agriculture Department has another main role which is to control the entry of plants into the State. If someone wants to bring them in, it must be done in a proper manner. There must be a permit,” he said.

Unfortunately, some people think it is alright to bring in live plants from Labuan and West Malaysia.

“It is not!” he added, saying they had confiscated many live plants that were brought in at all entry points into the State that were without a permit.

Idrus said that their latest dilemma was intercepting plants that were ordered online and sent via post.

“We have intercepted many and we cannot release them because they have no permits. Some were imported from western countries,” he said.

Ironically, those caught bringing the live plants in are not the uneducated, he said.

“The kampung folks don’t do it. It is the educated but non-agriculturalists. Sometimes they pack the plants and hide them. Someone brought in a durian musang tree complete with soil. You cannot bring in soil from other countries because they may carry diseases. That is a definite no-no,” he said.

Idrus added that it was standard all over the world that you cannot bring in soil.

He cited another case whereby an educated person went to Taiwan and brought in a live plant.

“When the plant was confiscated, the person became angry and was using his/her connection with people of high ranks. But no is a no. Because this will impact on our local agriculture,” he explained.

“When we confiscate, the people get angry … some have spent huge sums of money bringing the plants in because they don’t know. But this law has been around for a long time,” he said.

Idrus then cited the aquatic fern, Salvinia molesta, an invasive alien species that had been detected in 42 locations in Sabah’s water body that covers an area of 581.339 hectares as an example of what would happen if foreign plants were allowed to come in unchecked into Sabah.

“This plant is in the IAS list which means it cannot be brought in at all…but someone is selling them at the Gaya Street market. They are pretty as aquarium plants but people do not know their implication once they are released to the water body.”

He added that they suspected the plant, which comes from South America, were brought in by those selling aquarium fish.

“For one or two months, people don’t mind keeping their aquarium but they become lazy over time and probably just dump the water into the drain. The Salvinia molesta can double in its mass within three days so just imagine,” he said.

An ox bow lake in Kinabatangan, for example, has been infested with the plant and the local folks involved in tourism activities there have spent over RM300,000 in the last five years trying to rid the lake of the fern.

“They have been doing it manually, and they’ve realised that they have lost the fight so they asked us to come in. Initially, we didn’t know whose jurisdiction it was. Later we carried out a research and we will be using Cyrtobagous salvinia (from Australia) as a biology control.”

He added that their research was still at laboratory level and the beetle had not been released because their population was still small.

“We don’t really want to confiscate the plants but we must protect our agriculture sector. We must protect the industry. For example, if someone suddenly brings in the red palm weevil, our 1.7 million hectares of oil palm plantation would be in jeopardy,” he warned.

Earlier, Idrus attended the graduation ceremony of participants of the integrated farming which was graced by Agriculture and Food Industry Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Yahya Hussin.