UBFA communities launch declaration to protect their forests

Communities from Upper Baram Forest Area welcome steps taken to realize the project, and hand over declaration to Forest Department Sarawak and International Tropical Timber Organization

On March 20th in Kuching, Indigenous representatives participated in the Upper Baram Forest Area meeting with the Forest Department Sarawak and a representative from the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and handed over a declaration to them. The declaration sets forth the hopes and vision for the Upper Baram Forest Area (UBFA) project — the first Indigenous-led and co-managed protected area of its kind in Sarawak.

The declaration was devised and agreed to by the 118 participants of a meeting in Long Lamam in late February 2023. The participants represented 26 villages from the Penan, Kenyah and Saban communities across the UBFA. The groundbreaking meeting was organized by a coalition of NGOs including SAVE Rivers and KERUAN Organisation. The declaration establishes 8 guiding principles of the UBFA. These are:

  1. Free Prior and Informed Consent
  2. Governance and Self Determination
  3. Protection and Conservation of our Ecosystem
  4. Culture Sustainability
  5. Land
  6. Basic Services and Infrastructure
  7. Unity Among Villages
  8. Income Generation

The declaration also puts in place safeguards around conservation and Indigenous rights, including that the core forest zone of the UBFA must be protected from encroachment. It also calls for official recognition of Indigenous land rights over the area. 

Baram communities are eager for the UBFA project to begin. The meeting with the Forest Department and ITTO is the next step forward in this unique multi-stakeholder approach that sees previously adversarial parties coming together for the future of the Baram. The UBFA is seen as a unique approach in efforts to mitigate the climate crisis. 

“We’re thrilled that this project is moving forward and that we are able to discuss and work together with Sarawak Forestry Department and International Tropical Timber Organization and in accordance to our Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) rights,” said Erang Ngang from the Kenyah Jamok Community of Long Tungan who attended the meeting. 

“This opens the door for years of investment into our villages, in the form that we actually want, not decided by someone else” added Bilong from Long Sait.

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The full declaration can be read here in English, or here in BM

SAVE Rivers supports and empowers rural communities to protect their land, rivers, and

watersheds through capacity building, networking, research, education, and advocacy.

Keruan Organisation advocates for and represents the aspirations of the Penan community.

The Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) is committed to protecting the threatened

tropical rainforests and the rights of the Indigenous peoples, especially in Sarawak,

Malaysia.

The Borneo Project, based in California USA, brings international attention and support to community-led efforts to defend forests, sustainable livelihoods, and human rights.