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In order to combat soil erosion and pollution, a buffer zone has been created along the banks of the River Kinabatangan in Malaysia. It’s an initiative which also helps to support biodiversity.
For several years, Nestlé has been investing a lot in conservation projects of green spaces under threat in order to reduce the impact of its activities on the environment. For instance, the food and drink giant has launched a programme called Project RiLeaf in the state of Sabah in eastern Malaysia. The aim is to ensure that human beings and nature can once again coexist peacefully.
In this region of the world, agriculture has heavily relied on the production of palm oil. Owing to the disappearance of the original riverside vegetation and gully soil erosion, the waters of the Kinabatangan have deteriorated through the accumulation of sediment and plant protection agents. In order to give the river a chance to heal itself, there was no other option than to give it a serious boost by recreating a Riparian forest along the banks of the River Kinabatangan. With the help of this woodland cover which follows the path of the riverbed, the replanted banks help to create a buffer zone between spaces occupied by human activity and natural habitats. Acting as genuine filters, Riparian forests play an important ecological role in maintaining forest biodiversity and water quality.
A million trees
Launched in September 2011, the Project RiLeaf has already allowed a million trees to be planted along the banks, as well as a strip of land that is several dozens of metres wide, the famous buffer zone. It is a kind of ‘green belt’ which occupies an area of 2,700 hectares of previously eroded land. Each hectare of land consists of between 500 and 1,500 trees which are all from indigenous forest species. Their roots – in the same way as the low vegetation which grows there – not only allows for soil to stabilise and for its erosion to be limited, but also facilitates the filtering of run-off water, which then flows into the Kinabatangan.
This buffer zone – while not forbidden to humans – is, however, strictly protected, in the same way as any other biological corridor. In the long term, the idea is effectively to allow the flora and fauna to fully occupy these habitats that have been handed back to nature. From a social viewpoint, the Project RiLead also helps small producers of palm oil, particularly through offering them an additional source of income via the buffer zone’s various reforestation sites. On the back of its success, Nestlé recently announced an expansion of its Project RiLeaf in Malaysia. The initial project surrounding the Kinabatangan River has in fact been extended until 2023 with the aim of planting a total of 3 million trees. This staggered time frame of the project allows nature to gradually reassert itself.