Coca-Cola and the local community gives a green boost to Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve
The Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve (AHFR) in the district of Muar covers 3,797 hectares and is home to the only remaining peat swamp forest in Johor. The forest reserve faces challenges created by unsustainable water management practices by agriculture activities in the surrounding plantations and estates where some areas have been drained to lower the water table, which directly impacts the water table of the peat swamp forest itself making it very vulnerable to forest fires as seen in two major fires back in 2014.
Recently, 100 volunteers from Coca-Cola Malaysia and the Ayer Hitam community worked together to help regenerate a section at the northwest area of AHFR damaged by the fires by planting local species such as Kelat Paya (Syzygium campanulatum), bringing the total number of trees planted to date to 700.
An indigenous flowering species was purposely selected as it will attract birds to reintroduce flora and fauna to the degraded area, its roots will also help lock in water and help prevent soil erosion.
The community tree planting activity is one of many efforts under the “Water For Life” programme by The Coca-Cola Company and Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia (Muslim Aid) which aims to rehabilitate selected areas of the forest reserve through hydrological approaches and tree planting initiatives.
The “Water For Life” programme is supported by the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) and Johor State Forestry Department who provides the technical advice, forest survey, restoration and rehabilitation work and all efforts have received a positive response by the local community.
“The soil of a peat swamp forest has a sponge-like characteristic with the capacity to absorb a large volume of water. During the wet season, the soil absorbs and stores rainwater which delays the flow downstream and keeps the area from flooding while during the period with less rainfall, the forest will maintain the ground water table by the slow release of water to the surrounding area. This balance is threatened by excess draining of ground water and leaves the peat swamp forest vulnerable to fires especially during the dry season,” said Dr Ismail Parlan, Head of Natural Forest Program, FRIM.
To retain water in the peat level further and reduce the risk of forest fires, two dams have been constructed to prevent water from flowing out where an annual total of 2.29 billion litres of water has been retained in the forest since these check dams have been built.
The programme is funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation where a grant of over RM1 million was awarded to Muslim Aid since 2015. “Peat swamp forests are an important part of the ecosystem and because of the degradation in this area, water replenishment is an important part of its conservation that Coca-Cola is hoping to achieve,” said Coca-Cola Malaysia’s Public Affairs and Communications Director, Kadri Taib.