Overview of Current Threats

Thirty years ago, the introduction of commercial logging spurred encroachment onto the lands of Borneo’s indigenous peoples. The majority of all forests of Bornean Malaysia and Indonesia have been licensed to logging and plantation concessions, and most of these overlap with ancestral indigenous land claims. In violation of international and national law, logging and oil palm companies are clearing and burning vast tracts of ancient forest on a scale often exceeding rates of destruction in the Amazon.

Industrial logging and plantation development in Borneo’s forests have polluted rivers, degraded fragile forest ecosystems and made it difficult for communities to find the forest products they need to survive. Forest destruction has led to a decline in the bird, fish and mammal populations dependent on trees for seeds and fruit, as well as to a loss of medicinal plant, rattan, and palm species. The incursion of roads has enabled poachers to access the area, and hillside erosion has led to extreme siltation of watersheds and coral reefs, which are affecting regional and global climate patterns.

Forest destruction has threatened traditional systems of land management and inflicted poverty, pollution and social disintegration on once thriving communities. Efforts to protect remaining land through blockades, demonstrations, and court cases have met with repression and brutality on the part of government agencies and corporations. As forest resources have become depleted, economic pressures have driven young villagers to leave their communities in search of employment. Industrial appropriation of indigenous land has compelled traditionally nomadic tribes to settle and become agriculturist, as their basic needs can no longer be fulfilled by forest resources. Recently settled nomads (Penan in Sarawak, Punan in East Kalimantan) are increasingly reliant on a cash economy for food, medicine, and other necessities. Tribes in transition to a settled lifestyle have little access to education and health facilities and lack basic survival knowledge such as food crop cultivation and construction of permanent living structures.

The Malaysian and Indonesian governments have done little to mitigate the impacts of forest destruction, and governmental conservation efforts have largely been a failure due to high demand for illegal timber by export mills. In protected areas, bribes offered to government officials enable logging companies to carry out illegal operations. National and international laws that defend indigenous land rights are rarely enforced and frequently broken. Lands without written documentation of ownership are considered available for exploitation, and while Malaysian law recognizes native customary rights to lands occupied and cultivated by indigenous peoples, there is no official procedure to document such claims. Government requirements for written documentation of land ownership leave the burden of proof on communities who have had little or no access to titles or maps for these purposes. Land tenure conflict is high across Borneo, and remains a crisis issue for forest communities.

Recent Updates:

What’s Your Connection to Palm Oil and Rainforest Destruction?

3.28.11: Less than 10 of Sarawak Forests are Still Intact Google Earth Reveals Extent of Deforestation in Sarawak

11.15.11: Disturbing Bedfellows BBC CNBC Aid in Corrupt Acts of Malaysian Palm Oil Industry and Sarawak 

11.24.11: News from the 9th Annual Round Table Meeting on Sustainable Palm Oil RSPO

2.11.12: BBC to issue global apology for documentaries that broke rules

2.13.12: A Video from Borneo to Kosovo with Love

2.13.12: Two Girl Scouts Continue to Fight for the Removal of Palm Oil from their Cookies

3.2.12: Watch the most recent post of the EIA on “The Death of a Forest”

3.14.12: Surging Demand for Vegetable Oil Drives Rainforest Destruction

3.26.12: Featured Video: Impact of Deforestation on the Indigenous Dayak Benuaq People

3.27.12: Australia-Led Peat Conservation Project in Borneo Fails to Deliver

4.1.12: Our Success in Transforming Commodity Markets will Determine Natures Fate

4.3.12: Environmentalists Lose Court Case Over Palm Oil

4.5.12: Exposing Forest ‘Untouchables” is as Important as Ever

4.7.12: A New Frontier: Coal in Indonesian Borneo

4.26.12: Palm Oil Industry Lobbies EPA to Overturn Palm Oil Biofuel Report

4.27.12: A New Study: Palm Oil is A Major Driver of Peatlands Destruction in Indonesian Borneo

5.1.12: A Grim Portrait of Palm Oil Emissions

5.24.12: Illegal Logging in Kalimantan is Costly for the State

6.2.12: Listen to Executive Director, Jettie Word, Speak on Current Threats in Borneo

6.16.12: Indonesia Eco Newswrap

6.19.12: Indian Palm Oil Consumption Driving Deforestation in Indonesia, Says Greenpeace

7.12.12: Despite Moratorium, Indonesia Failing to Take Action on Illegal Palm Oil Plantations

7.12.12: Indonesia Palm Oil Firms Violants Test Governments Environmental Enforcement

7.13.12: Miners blamed for flooding in East Kalimantan

7.15.12: Charts: Deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia 2000-2010

9.6.12: Increasing Demand for Wood Products Contributes to Rainforest Destruction

12.26.12: Rogue Palm Oil Firm to Stop Clearing Indigenous Territory in Muara Tae

12.28.12: Environmental Hangover from Indonesia’s Palm Oil Thirst

1.3.13: Paper Giant Breaks Pledge to End Rainforest Logging in Sumatra

1.8.13: Science on the Impacts of Deforestation and the Effects of Climate Change on Forests

4.8.13: Conservationists Urge Palm Oil Firm to Cease Rainforest Destruction After Starving Orangutans Rescued From Concession

4.12.13: Independent Body for Natives Urged

4.15.13: World Bank to Strengthen Focus on Land Rights

4.19.13: Spotlight on Palm Oil Meeting

6.11.13: Indonesia to Ban Auctions of Timber Seized From Illegal Logging Operations

6.14.13: Opposition Gets Flak From From Masing Over NCR Land Survey

10.17.13: Blog Action Day 2013: How Development is Threatening Human Rights in Borneo

11.4.13: UK Financial Institutions Fund Coal Exploitation, Forest Destruction in Indonesia

6.30.14: Borneo mega-dams risk indigenous “ethnocide”

10.4.14: Broken Promises at Sungai Asap Resettlement

10.16.14: Coal mines negatively impact villagers, ecosystems in Indonesian Borneo