By A. Jeyaraj
I visited the Papan Herbal Garden in March after seeing the 400 hectares of so-called degraded forest which is earmarked for logging near Papan. I accompanied members of NGOs to the garden which is in the Kledang Saiong Forest Reserve and next to the forest designated for logging. It looked like we were the first outsiders to visit the place. The tickets for entry were not available at the guardhouse and were kept in the office inside the garden. This shows how often they issue tickets.
The garden is a small area with a circular road. One of the staff accompanied us and he was friendly and explained the usefulness of some of the plants and what they were used for. There is a three-storey building in the centre of the garden which looked newer than the other buildings. I was told it was meant to be a spa and is not used because they have no water.
The garden was opened in 2005 and the buildings look rundown. The writing on the tags attached to the plants was worn off and difficult to read. The place is not well maintained. I did not see any workers.
The garden is supposed to have an information centre, camping site, resting huts, dormitory, homestay, jungle tracking and canteen. The canteen was not open when we were there. There is a hall which can be hired for functions. I wonder whether these facilities are being used. Probably when the garden was first open people might have gone there. Looking at the buildings now, there is no sign that they are being used.
There is a stream with clear water flowing in front of the garden and people come to swim in the stream. Once logging starts the water would turn muddy. The serenity of the place would be gone forever. The wildlife and birds would disappear.
The approach road is not well maintained and has many potholes. People with new cars would hesitate to use the road. The road is being widened, maybe for lorries to transport the timber and then it would become busy and dangerous.
I did not see any signage in Papan showing the way to the garden.
I decided to see the situation in Perak Herbal Garden located in Kampung Kepayang, off Jalan Simpang Pulai – Batu Gajah Road which I had visited about three years ago. I went there on a Saturday morning thinking people would visit the place during the weekend. When I went there, the place was closed. The security guard said that it has been closed for some time and informed that people came without knowing it was closed. There is no signboard informing of the closure and what was going on.
I called the office on Monday morning and the person answering the phone said that he did not know how long the place would be closed.
It is one of the initiatives of the government to provide facilities like this to transfer knowledge to local people and the next generation on the diversity and richness of herbs found in Malaysia. We can instil environmental awareness among our people and educate them on the qualities of local plants.
Setting up herbal gardens is not enough, they should be patronised by the people. There should be more publicity. School children should be taken for an outing here. Many children including adults might not have seen local fruit trees like mangosteen, langsat and others which are grown in the garden.
There are many herbal gardens and I have visited only two, I don’t know the conditions of other gardens. Money has been spent on setting up these gardens and maintaining them is expensive. They were set up for a purpose. Have we achieved the aim of setting up these gardens? A study should be done on the status of these gardens and find ways to make them popular. The efforts and money spent are not justified if the facilities are not being used.
Malaysians like to eat and the canteen should serve different varieties of food to cater for the needs of all people and at reasonable prices.