Sunday, October 25, 2009

Garderne4s' Bulletin Singapore - A Commemorative volume

1. Yesterday Datuk Seri C K Lim borrowed me the latest copy of Gardens' Bulletin Singapore - A commemorative volume of the 150th Anniversary of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I didn't realise that Singapore Botanic Gardens is 150 years old now, and remains one of the best botanic gardens in our region. The cover was colourful and the articles inside were excellent.

2. Dr. George Argent reported new species of Rhododendron; Prof. P. S. Ashton on new species of Syzygium and Tristaniopsis; Dr. Barcelona et al. reported a new species of Rafflesia; Hughes et al. on new Begonia; Prof. Iwatsuki et al. on new Fissidens; Prof. Kato & Koi on new species of Podostemonaceae; Dr. R. Kiew on new species of Gesneriaceae; Lee et al. on new species of Nepenthes; Dr. Ian Turner on new species of Alphonsea; Suksathan & Triboun on new species of Impatiens; etc. When I finished reading them my feeling was ...there are still many new taxa lurking in the wild waiting to be collected, decribed and named.

3. What struck me is Rafflesia aurantia from Luzon. I remembered Mr. Co one of the the co-authors showed me the picture of it during the Flora Malesiana Symposium in Manila years ago but the late Prof. Kamaruddin Mat Salleh (KMS), one of the specialists of the genus dismissed it as R. tengku-adlinii. I argued with him how could the Sabah species get dispersed to Luzon or vice versa and furthermore most Rafflesia species have limited range of distribution due to its biology - small population, pollination and seed dispersal. Now justice is done to that species, and the late Prof. KMS is not around to witness it. I also remembered urging Mr. Co to name and publish it.

4. The articles on the deep taxonomy of Gardenia tubifera complex by Low and Prof. K. M. Wong is an excellent example of what taxonomy is all about when comes to species complex. Also the article by Dr. Ian Turner & Dr. Jef Veldkamp on the taxonomic history of Cananga is a must read for students of taxonomy and taxonomists in SEAsia.

5. As a botanist I sincerely feel many of us have not done much justice to our taxonomy for many various and obvious reasons. After all the last count of active taxonomists in Malaysia is not more than 30, though there are many young and budding ones around. I honestly believe the scenario would be different in 10 years time. Speaking for myself, just before I retired in June 2004 I had promised myself to devote much more time and energy to taxonomy and finish my treatment of Vitaceae for Flora Malesiana. More than 5 years gone now and I am not able to do what I had promised, probably I may not be able to realise that at all.

6. What is lacking in this commemorative volume are the contributions from the Singaporeans themselves, after all this is the commemorative volume of Singapore Botanic Gardens, except for the reviews. The neighbours of Singapore had contributed significantly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Integrated Master Plan for Belum-Temengor : The Synthesis

1. On the 21-22 October more than 100 participants representing the various stake-holders of Belum Temengor Tropical Forest met at Impiana Casuarina Hotel, Ipoh to discuss the concept of Integrated Master Plan for the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex. In my earlier posts I called this proposed plan as the Integrated Management Plan.

2. It was organised by Northern Corridor Implementation Authority, the implementation arm of the Northern Corridor Economic Region, one of the growth corridor initiatives introduced by the former Prime Minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The conference was officially opened by HH The Crown Prince of Perak, Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah Ibni Sultan Azlan Muhibuddin Shah. In HH speech HH reinterated implicitly the importance of having an instrument to manage and conserve the vast area for socio-economic development of Hulu Perak and Perak state in general. The Chief Executive of NCIA, Dato Seri Anuar Zaini emphasized the importance of transparency and consultation in the inception phase of IMP.

3. Two invited international speakers spoke about their experience in managing the ecosystem; Dr. G. Castellija, Director of Conservation WWF International spoke about the experience of 8 nations coming together to agree to look after the Amazon Basin and manage it sustainably and Mr. Robert W Calson from Costa Rica spoke about the development of ecotourism sector based on forest resources in that Central American republic. Both are relevant to what we were dreaming for but on the smaller scale! After all Belum-Temengor area is only about 334,000 ha in area. Belum FR whihc is about 117,000 ha has been gazetted as the Royal Belum State Park and part of the Temengor FR is a production forest, where selective logging is going on at the moment.

4. The local scenario was provided by Prof. Datuk Khaw Lake Tee from Universiti Malaya on the aspect of legislations, policies and laws involved in protecting area such as the Belum-Temengor Tropical Forest. She argued on the salient conflict between the Federal lists, State lists and Concurrent lists of legislations. Dr. Hari from UNDP spoke on the economy of conservation similar to pay per view concept. Mr. Wan Hanafi Wan Mat EPU spoke on the infrastructure development and Dr. Dolbani Mijan JPBD Perak spoke on state plans for Hulu Perak.

5. Then the participants broke into 6 group for discussion and after 2 hours each facilitator summarised the thoughts of the group consensus. Tan Sri Dr Salleh Mohd Noor MNS & ASM spoke on the need to review the policies and legislations, and looking at the aspects of governance Planning. Dr. Loh Chi Leong ED-MNS spoke on the porosity of security in the area & the weak enforcement therin. Dr. Noor Azlin Yahaya of FRIM spoke on the ways to promote and market sustainable ecotourism. Dato' Dr. Dino Sharma CEO-WWF on the aspect of self-sustainability of the area. Dato Shaharuddin Mohd Ismail UKM spoke on organisational structure and I did speak on the past research works & on the importance of research to generate data and information for the development of socio-economic development such as ecotourism.

6. Before the closing ceremony the moderator and convenor Dato Seri Anuar Zaini promised to undertake the preparation of IMP as recommended by the participants through consultative methods with the stake-holders. An ad-hoc small group is set-up to oversee the preparative phase. In closing the conference the Menteri Besar of Perak promised to ensure that the IMP is prepared for the state.

7. To put bluntly I, on behalf of the participants wish to put on records that for all the works in the last 10 years as inputted by MNS, WWF Malaysia. Pulau Banding Foundation and other agencies and individuals, would like to pray that NCIA under the leadership of Dato Seri Anuar Zaini and the state government under the leadership of Dato' Seri Dr. Zambry, once and for all will make our wishes and dreams come true for the sake of Belum-Temengor Rainforest and its biodiversity both in the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Prof. Dr. Kamarudin Mat Salleh : In Memoriam

1. On Saturday 10th October 2009 Prof. Dr. Kamarudin Mat Salleh, after suffering from cancer for about a year, died at his home on Jalan 9 Taman Sri Jeluk, Kajang, about 6.50 pm that evening. He left a wife, Azizah and six children, three boys and three girls.

2. He was my former student. I plucked him from obscurity at the Jalan Pantai Baru Campus when he was in 2nd year by asking him to quit his activities in students society and concentrated on his studies, which he did. In the 4th year he completed an honours project under supervision on "the ethnobotany of Simaroubaceae", which had prompted him to finish a book on "Tumbuhan Ubatan Malaysia 2002". Hailed from a rural family of kampung Tepi Sungai, Tanah Merah, Kelantan, he was not bright student but a very hardworking one. It is on the basis of his hardwork attitude that I recommended to Charlie, then Dean of UKMSabah, to take him as a tutor. He was sent to University of Aberdeen to read his MS in chemotaxonomy of Annonaceae under Dr. Chris Wilcox, and subsequently to University of Michigan to read for his PhD in the taxonomy of Annonaceae.

3. He was my mentee. Upon returning to UKMSabah, we kept in touch because we shared a common interest in the taxonomy of Malesian plants and ethnobotany. When UKMSabah was about to be dismantled, I asked him to return to Bangi. Soon he was promoted to Associate Professor. We began our taxonomic journey into the biology and taxonomy of Rafflesia, and we co-authored Rafflesia tengku-adlinii, a small species endemic to Sabah. Though we argued a lot on the taxonomy, we remained as taxonomic comrades, and acknowledged me as his mentor.

4. He was my friend. Though we differ in age, he was 51 when he died and I am just past 61, we respected each other as colleague. He always featured in my research group, we shared many courses and we also co-supervised students. When he was promoted to professor, I asked him to stay away a bit from my shadow because I strongly believed as my understudy and successor in taxonomy, he should be on his own. He should be Prof. Dr. Kamarudin Mat Salleh, and not a former student and a mentee of mine. Some friends interpreted this as my attempt to divorce him.

5. He was fondly remembered as an emotional researcher whose "families" are Annonaceae and Rafflesiaceae, a professor who wanted to convert many students to join his families; who loved to talk about computer, facebook, photography and cameras, blogs, flickers and spin etc. He loved writing messages in UKM email network, some times created animosity amongst some. I missed him so much. May his soul be among the chosen believers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

UKM slides down a bit

1. In to-day's STAR the details of the THE-QS World University Rankings were published. This year UKM was placed at the low 291 position oiut of the total 2,175 universities. It is not that bad considering many other universities were placed lower. However, the Minister of Higher Education and the VCs were thinking of braeking into the 200 and ultimately the 100.

2. It is not impossible considering the National University of Singapore is placed at number 30, Kyoto University at 25 and the University of Tokyo at 22, among the Asian universities. Of course there are those in India, China, South Korea are also in the top 200.

3.QS Intelligent Unit Head Mr. Ben Sowter stated that one of the key indicators is the greater proportion of international students. I have observed that at least in the USM, UM, UPM and UKM there are already too many international students, especially from the Arab countries, Iran and Indonesia. One way to ensure greater proportion of international students especially from the African and South American, European countries and Indian subcontinents is to make available to them some research grants. At least at UKM I have observed that many professors found it hard to recruit international students because of the unavailability of endowment grants. I realised many European and American universities have such a grant for their international students to carry their research outside Europe and US

4. The recruiter review (10%). There have been some bias on the parts of recruiters local or otherwise of UKM graduates because of the old perception that they couln't talk and converse in English. This is a misconception of the highest level because UKM is established to elevate the teaching in Bahasa Malaysia. This criteria is a bit difficult to achieve, though once again I use the terms not impossible.

5. International faculty ratio (5%). Yes, the number of international students increase but not the international faculty number hence the ratio. At least in my faculty, the Faculty of Science & Technology there are too few international faculties. One of the reasons is of course the renumeration is not compettitive at all, compared to those in NUS; the infra-structure especially the labs are below international standard and the support system is almost non-existence, to exaggerate a bit.

6. International student ratio (5%). UKM promised to increase the post-graduates and decrease the intake of the pre-graduate students. However, the demands for university places is on the increase every year.

7. Student faculty ratio (20%). As I observed in UKM the number of students, post-graduates and pre-graduates is on the increase but the number of faculty members is almost stagnant. We are lucky the retired professors stayed back, as they, like me, don't have other places to go except to beg for a new contract. The reason for non-recruitment of new faculty is the salary is too low and not competitive and the responsibilities of lecturer are increased by almost 60%, especially with those of non-academic domain like doing documents of ISO, MQF and the likes.

8. Citation per faculty (20%). This is a perrenial problem faced by the faculty since I first started teaching at UKM in December 1978. There were those who were prolific lecturers and reserachers and they published many articles in reputed journals every year but there are too many of us who didn't publish an article per year at all, they are 100% lecturers. When I was in the Dean's office I remember less than 10 faculties per school (Pusat pengajian) who had to shoulder the others. There were many initiatives introduced by the university to enhance this phenomenon but failed.

9. Peer review (40%). Most of us in the appropriate professions were the Alma Mater of Universiti Malaya and we have certain loyalty to it, though the past and present authorities didn't recognise this. I have never been invited back to UM for a cup of coffee to remind myself that I am an alumnus of UM. I bet many peers have a softer spots for UM than any other local universities, but this criteria is going to change in the next 5 years as the alumni of other universities would become peers.

10. UKM is also featured in the Arts and Humanities at number 238, in the Social Sciences UKM is at number 203, and UKM doesn't feature well enough in the Life Sciences & Biomedicines, Natural Sciences and Engineering and Information Technology.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On the Varsity & THES-Qs World University Ranking

1. In the Star of Thursday 8th October and NST Friday 9th October there were reports of the much awaitedTimes Higher Education-QS World University rankings. The VC of Universiti Malaya, my alma mater was happy because UM has jumped from #230 to #180, a leap of 50 steps. Except for Universiti Teknologi Malaysia which improved by 36 steps, the other big three suffered a bit.

2. When I was a university student (1969-1978) I have never heard of such a topic being discussed by my professors, though I knew Universiti Malaya and University of Reading were among the best in the world at least in my chosen field of study. When I was a lecturer myself at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (1979-now), it is only in the last five years that we pay some attention to this exercise of ranking universities in the world and Asia.

3. As expected the long established universities in US and UK stayed in the top 10. However in Asia, University of Tokyo, University of Kyoto and the National University of Singapore featured among the best 30 in the world.

4. All the top 5 universities in Malaysia are quite similar in history except Universiti Malaya which is the oldest, the others are about 40 years. As a 40-year old university it is expected to be macho, handsome, secured, confident matured and competitive, but as I grew and aged within the academia, I can't help but felt sorry for our universities for a couple of reasons.

5. All universities have been treated like a secondary schools by the ministry, everyday professors have to clock-in and clock-out, take the attendance during lectures, prepare ISO documents like a factory etc. There were too many unnecessary chores and routine that we have to do and the professors at Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford never did in their life times! In addition the VCs and DVCs are appointed, at least some, via political whims and fancies. These people are not among the top academicians in their own universities.

6. Among the criteria that Malaysian universities didnot feature well enough are (a) inadequate publications in top journals in various chosen disciplines (b) the number of international students especially from Europe and other developed countries. We have been receiving post-graduate students from Indonesia and Middle East countries and northern Africa (c) inadequate R & D funds, not that we have no funds, but the funds were not systematically chanelled to research in competitive areas, (d) inadequate freedom given to university professors to innovate and excell and (e) the graduates produced via a 3-year students are just short of becoming competitive force of labours for the private markets.

7. I am happy for Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia for maintaining the 2nd stop beihind my alma mater, but at # 291 does not reflect the true picture of the sweat and tears we put in daily, weekly and monthly in teaching, supervising, researching, publication and community services. I hope in 2010 we shall improve.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mangrove Biodiversity and Audit

1. In the RM9 the government via the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) paid special tribute to the environmental audit and biodiversity in its 5-year plan. We the scientists have been asking for the intregration of the value of the environment and biodiversity in the auditing review for years because we believed biodiversity has economic value and this must be reflected in the national audit.

2. The ecosystem or community biodiversity has been giving us free services via the provision of clean air and water; the mangroves have been filtering many toxic substances from the lands into the sea and vice versa; the forests have been mitigating climate change by fixing and storing carbon, in addition to providing timbers and non-timber products. The beautiful landscapes have been the attraction for ecotourism promotion.

3. The species biodiversity also have been giving us free foods and other benefits. The beautiful and iconic species have been giving us some economic benefits from ecotourism too. At least there were people who paid some money to watch the blooming rafflesias, orang utan, proboscis monkeys and hornbills. Many semi-wild fruit tree species have been providing us with some exotic fruits.

4. The genetic biodiversity is yet to give us economic benefits because our scientists have not been doing the animal and plant breeding very much, possibly the orchids are the exceptions.

5. On Tuesday 7th October I gave a 2-hour lecture to the auditors of Malaysia and Indonesia at the Sutera Harbour Hotel, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. The auditors from these two countries met to discuss the economic value of the mangroves on both sides of the Straits of Malacca. In spite of what were reported about the threats of the extreme nationalists, we mingles with each other as brothers!

6. Since the 1980s I had carried out some researches on the taxonomic composition, biomass and economic value of the mangroves of Pulau Langkawi, Sungau Merbuk (Kedah), Matang (Perak), Kuala Selangor, and some of my co-reseachers like Dr. Wan Juliana Wan Ahmad & Dr. Norhayati Ahmad had done some works at Sungai Pulai, Johor and Sungai Linggi, Melaka. To say the least we have some useful data on the mangroves of Malaysian side of the Straits of Melaka that benefit the auditors.

7. One of my previous PhD students, Dr. Haliza Abdul Rahman, now a lecturer with Universiti Sains Malaysia at Kubang Kerian did look at the legislative protocols, policies and regulations affecting the management of the mangroves in Selangor. She found out that there are conflicts between the Federal policy and plannings with the State and also the local governments. This did not augur well with the process of auditing of this important green asset in Selangor. In spite of the strong calls by the Federal government to preserve and conserve the mangroves; the state and local governments utilised and exploited the mangrove swamps for aquaculture, oil palm plantation and housing.

8. To be fair I am not sure whether there were similar studies on the mangroves on the Sumateran coasts, the other side of the Straits of Melaka. If there were either I don't know about them or the informations were not published in journals. And I believe there are more mangroves on the other side.