The Baram Heritage Survey

Although they cover only 6% of the Earth’s surface, rainforests produce more than 40% of the world’s oxygen. Scientists predict that forest protection and restoration will be one of our most effective tools in combating the climate crisis. At The Borneo Project, we’re trying to help us all breath a little easier by safeguarding some of the last remaining unprotected forest in Sarawak.

We have been working for almost 30 years with the communities who call the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo home. Through our longevity and commitment we have developed the experience and relationships necessary to spearhead pivotal conservation and human rights projects. And we’ve been up against some pretty bleak odds. 

In recent decades, Sarawak has been under intense pressure from the logging, palm oil and mega-hydro companies who seek to exploit the land for short-term financial gain. Up to 80% of the primary forest in Malaysian Borneo has already been degraded. Now, communities in the Baram River Basin are organising to create an indigenous managed protected zone to kick out the companies for good. 

We are working with these communities on the Baram Heritage Survey to collect comprehensive wildlife, land use and social data for the very first time. This data will be used to help establish the Baram Peace Park, an indigenous vision of forest protection covering the largest unprotected area of primary forest left in Sarawak. The area would cover 2,800 square kilometers and border two national parks to form a crucial wildlife corridor.

Deforestation of tropical rainforests could account for the loss of as many as 100 species a day. The Baram is home to dozens of threatened species, including critically endangered gibbons, leopards, pangolins, sun bears,  and hornbills. The Baram Heritage Survey will track and map the abundance of these animal populations, document the impact of logging,  and help build a strategy and management plan.

But the Baram Heritage Survey is no ordinary scientific study. Instead of sending in grad students, we have hired indigenous village-based field technicians to collect the data. They know the context, they know the language, they know what every sign and sound they come across means. They have what no university can teach: intergenerational ecological knowledge. 

It will be the communities who undertake this field work themselves, decide collectively how the data is shared, and use this information to strengthen their land rights claims. This is because the forests of the Baram don’t just contain magnificent endangered wildlife—they are home to indigenous communities that are equally threatened with cultural extinction if the land is lost to destructive industries. The communities we work with rely on the forests for clean water, housing, food, and for their livelihoods. For the indigenous peoples of Sarawak, conservation and cultural survival are one and the same. 

The Borneo Project has the capacity, trust and knowledge to make the Baram Heritage Survey a success, and data collection is already under way. But we need your help to reach the finish line. We need additional funding to produce and print community atlases and to thoroughly consult communities after data collection is complete. 

A big part of this project is about using data analysis to strengthen and inform our political strategy together with our partner NGOs and the communities. The next steps after data collection will be critical, as communities may want to organize against logging concessions, create village-based forest monitoring and fire fighting teams, work towards reforestation of degraded landscapes, establish new wildlife protection zones, or negotiate with the government to seek formal protection for the area. We need your help so that this project can reach its full conservation potential. 

By supporting the Baram Heritage Survey you are empowering indigenous-led climate action and safeguarding the lungs of our planet for generations to come. We are a small organization with immense real-world impact. We are nimble and we are lean, never wasting money on flashy office spaces or admin departments. If you would like your contributions to go a mighty long way on the ground, please consider pledging your support to the Baram Heritage Survey.