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News 23 Mar 2021

Many young people struggle with their true calling. And so did Akmal, the current project leader of the No Deforestation Program. But an interesting string of fate’s twists brought him to where he felt like he belonged, back to Mother Nature.

When nature is your calling, there isn’t much you can do other than heed the call. And that is exactly what happened with Akmal Arif Mohamad Razali, who works on deforestation in Malaysia.

Born and raised as a true KL-ite in the early 90s, he was taught to be independent since day one. In early adolescence, he had to venture on into a completely different state, in search of further education, at the prestigious Sekolah Menengah Sains Muzaffar Syah, in Ayer Keroh, Melaka. And from that, he moved to the island state of Penang, in pursuit of a scroll for his higher academics.

Albeit having done Zoology & Animal Biology at Help University, Penang, Akmal was still undecided on the direction that he’d was to take down the road into his future. However, he’d always had an innate passion for large cats, being swayed by their beauty and grace, even if he’d only been able to experience their elegance through the television set. And that was when the phone call came.

Rimba, a non-profit, conservation science group, wanted him to be a part of their team responsible for the care of Malayan Tigers. And straight out of university, Akmal zipped to the state of Terengganu, a hotspot for conservationists, to spend 4 whole years studying these famously agile cats and giving them the proper care that they need to maintain thriving populations in the wild. It was also then that he’d heard of Earthworm, when working on a project together. One thing led to another, and after his stint at Rimba, he was welcomed into the Earthworm family.

Now, as the project leader of Earthworm’s No Deforestation Program, he’s become a true nature warrior, defending the core business of the foundation. Every day, he works to help large mills and organizations that use a large fraction of this raw material to come up with effective solutions to naturized their operations. And his main goal, to reduce the footprint of deforestation in Malaysia.

A simple workday starts off with him looking up new and innovative solutions to help members of the Earthworm foundation put in place a more nature-friendly operations process. He’d also prepare tools for engagement and the better understanding of the predicament at hand. Some mill owners and deforesters aren’t yet up to speed about the effects that their actions have on the environment. And that’s where Akmal steps in. He does tout educating them on the impact, as most are simply unaware and are very much ready to streamline their processes, once they realize what’s going on.

There are even visits to the site, where Akmal gets to meet the people involved, in-person. Here, he takes a look around the mills, inspects their process flows, and helps them to identify any broken links or potentially pernicious steps that can further malign the delicate balance of the Malaysian forests. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s not been able to go out onto the grounds and sleuth about mills. But that doesn’t stop him and his team from organizing virtual meets to keep the gears of the project moving.

From his experience, it is the lack of awareness that contributes most to the deforestation problem that Malaysia faces. And on his part, the challenge lies in persuading the opposing parties, getting them on his side, and allowing them to see the bigger picture, as well as the effects that their actions have. Of course, he and his team do not disregard the fact that these raw materials are directly connected to the livelihood of so many people. They simply help their partners find a working solution that brings the least effect onto the environment and its precarious equilibrium.

But, the nature warrior life doesn’t stop at work. Akmal is also a proud volunteer for several different non-profit organizations, most of which have a hand in different facets of conservation in Malaysia. One of them is the Reef Check Foundation in the beautiful Tioman Islands. Here, he engaged the community to be more aware of the importance of local coral reefs and educate them on the concepts of conservation as well as its significance to, not only marine life, but the ecosystem as well.

His other volunteer work includes being a part of the Kechara Soup Kitchen, a non-profit that aids the homeless in Kuala Lumpur. He’d also worked with Taraana, a sensory camp designed for special needs kids. He’d even had the opportunity to fly over to the neighboring Philippines Islands to work on economic empowerment of the people there, through the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation.

Akmal is now a full-fledged champion of the natural environment. And as he goes on to keep the forests in Malaysia safe through sustainable practices, ethical logging, and activation of key preservation policies, he also encourages those who want to be a part of conservation. To him, the avenues are open, and it welcomes you, the younger generation. All you have to do is look at the opportunities lying ahead and seize them.

Today, he works to help palm oil mills and companies find solutions to their environmental and social challenges. But his main goal is to reduce their deforestation footprint in Malaysia. Some aren’t up-to-speed about the true effect their operations have on the environment. And that’s where Akmal steps in.

"Most are simply unaware," he said. "They are ready to change once they realise what’s going on."

During visits to some of these mills and plantations, he inspects their processes and helps them identify potential risks. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s been stuck at home like the rest of us. But that hasn't stopped him and his team from organising virtual meetings to keep projects moving.

"From my experience, lack of awareness contributes a lot to the deforestation problem in Malaysia," Akmal said.

The challenge lies in persuading people who might not share the same view - getting them to see his side and the bigger picture.

"Of course, we don't disregard the fact that palm oil is connected to the livelihoods of so many people," he said. "What we are looking for is a working solution that brings the least effect to the environment."

Akmal's passion for the causes doesn’t stop at work. He volunteers for several conservation organisations in Malaysia, one of which is the Reef Check Foundation in the Tioman Islands. Here, he had the opportunity to talk to communities the importance of coral reefs and their significance to not only marine life, but the overall ecosystem as well.

His other volunteer work includes the Kechara Soup Kitchen, which helps the homeless in Kuala Lumpur, as well as Taraana - a sensory camp designed for special needs kids. He’s also flown over to the neighboring Philippines to work on economic empowerment of local people through the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation.

"There are more and more avenues now for those interested in conservation, especially the younger generation." Akmal said. "What you have to do is seize them."

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