Serene no more: Logging roads snaking across the Borneo rainforest hillside, no thanks to illegal logging and other reasons for the clearing of jungle.
THE mountain ranges between Sarawak and Kalimantan are some of the most beautiful places I have laid eyes on. Visit the Bario and Ba’kelalan highlands and you find inner peace just by being there.
Closer to Kuching, there is a series of valleys and hills that separate Sarawak’s Batang Ai dam and West Kalimantan. Standing atop of this landscape, you come to the quick realisation that the natural world is truly without borders.
Here, at this frontier of the Malaysia’s largest state, is a portion of the Heart of Borneo (HoB).
For the uninitiated, HoB is an agreement initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) for the governments of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia to conserve one of Asia’s last great rainforests.
The tri-national HoB agreement, sometimes called the beating heart of Borneo, was signed in February 2007 in Bali.
In the years since – unfortunately – there have been illegal plungering of this 220,000 sq km landscape.
Anyone who has visited a resort at Batang Ai recently would have seen illegal logging roads snaking across the hillside. I wrote about this earlier but locals whom I remain in contact with believe that possible illegal felling of trees still recur from time to time.
I will not get into that this week since what I want to highlight here are the three new proposals from the just concluded eighth Heart of Borneo Trilateral Meeting in Central Kalimantan.
The proposals’ basis is to get grassroots involved in HoB by adding economic benefits.
This is a important because illegal felling and smuggling of trees are sometimes carried out with local consent. For instance, some communities are led to believe that illegal logging might be one way to get roads built. Others see oil palm estates as their ticket out of poverty (even though prices are plunging).
“There is no doubt about it – talking about conservation or natural capital alone is not going to secure ownership of the HoB Initiative with local communities,” said WWF Borneo civil society leader Christina Eghenter at the conclusion of the meeting last Thursday.
“The success of the initiative depends on creating benefits and well-being as much as on sustaining critical biodiversity… and have local communities as equal partners for HoB,” she added.
Indonesia discussed the possibility of organising a “Visit The Heart of Borneo Year 2018”, making ecotourism a component of green economy development. In its proposal, the neighbouring country emphasised on marketing Borneo as a single transboundary destination.
“This can be done by building on the natural and social-cultural assets of the interior and leveraging on combined strengths of the Heart of Borneo. The right policy and infrastructural conditions can support a model of green ecotourism that maximises revenues for local governments and communities, and minimises social and environmental costs,” the Indonesian proposal said.
The next proposal, the most ambitious, is by Brunei. The oil-rich nation, which must be credited as protecting its forests the best, tabled an idea to create a HoB corridor.
Brunei said there was a need to link 12 protected areas of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and conservation landscapes from Sabah, through Brunei, across Sarawak into Kalimantan. The country said HoB would only be protected by connecting the presently fragmented land uses under a coherent management plan.
If this corridor goes ahead, it will become longest ecology landscape in the world and secure connectivity throughout all three HoB countries.
I hope the Sarawak government will do all it can to support all three proposals from the tri-national meeting. Sarawak’s forest conservation reputation is at an all-time low. Putting reputation aside, supporting the creation of the corridor, for instance, just feels like the right thing to do. Logically, it should not be a hard thing to implement since this is a large state with a low population.
The Sarawak government has poured a lot of resources into materialising the corridor of renewable energy and should counterbalance that with the HoB corridor. If the industralisation masterplan is what a developing state needs to do, then the green corridor is what it must also do to be developed.