By RUBEN SARIO KOTA KINABALU: A 70ha fire-prone acacia plantation at Kinarut near here will be transformed into a tropical jungle from today with the launch of an eco-forest park, a Malaysian-Japanese joint venture project. The project, by Sabah Forest Development Authority (Safoda) and Japanese electronics giant Fujitsu Limited, is part of a government environmental protection programme. Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Tham Nyip Shen will launch the project together with Fujitsu chairman TadashiSekizawa. Safoda general manager Francis Otigil said about 40,000 seedlings of local trees such as the Borneo dipterocarp species as well as fruit and flowering trees would be planted over the next three years under the project. Fujitsu has pledged seven million yen (RM200,000) for the project located 20km south of here, he said. The area had been the site of an acacia mangium tree plantation project by Safoda and Japan International Co-operation Agency (Jica). However, bush fires damaged the plantation in 1998 at the height of the El Nino phenomenon, prompting Safoda to re-examine the usage for the area. Otigil said the planting of acacia in the area had been a right move as it helped improve the soil by increasing its nitrogen content. The improved soil fertility will help in the growth of the indigenous trees to be planted there, he said. He added that Safoda was also hoping that an adjacent mangrove jungle would be included as part of the eco-forest part later on. Among those who are also involved in the project are veteran Japanese forester Kunii Tadashi, the Jica chief adviser in the state and Japans Akita Universitys Education and Human Studies faculty associate professor SachikoTakahi. Both have been helping in research on the relationship between local communities and the mangrove forests. Fujitsu (Malaysia) president Hidehiko Kurabayashi said the Kinarut eco-forest project was the first in Malaysia carried out by Fujitsu Limited. He said Fujitsu had implemented similar schemes in Thailand and Vietnam.