Baram Peace Park communities see no future in logging

While government and industry leaders meet in Kuching for a Sustainable Forest Management conference, Indigenous communities from Northern Sarawak are disappointed with the empty promises of sustainability certification.

Press Release of our partner organizations SAVE Rivers and KERUAN Organisation

(BARAM / SARAWAK / MALAYSIA) Many Penan and Kenyah communities from the Baram Peace Park, Northern Sarawak, see no future in logging. In letters sent to companies holding timber concessions in the area, the communities state that they “oppose any logging, whether certified as sustainable or not,” and that they “are disappointed with the empty promises of sustainable forest management.” They request their territories, of which they submitted maps, to be protected from logging.

Starting today, Malaysian and international stakeholders are gathering in Sarawak’s capital Kuching for a conference on Sustainable Forest Management. Celine Lim, Managing Director of SAVE Rivers, and James Bujang, community organiser/field coordinator for KERUAN and from the Baram Peace Park, are in Kuching today, to deliver the communities’ position to the stakeholders of the conference. Lim states: “Our experience shows that Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) has not been upheld time and again, whether under the guise of sustainability or not. In the Baram Peace Park, we have many communities who oppose logging, but have to fight really hard to protect their territories and rights on a daily basis. Considering our climate and biodiversity crisis, it is hard to understand why community initiatives to protect forests are not respected.”

Over the last months, many villages have sent letters to timber giants Shin Yang and Samling, who hold timber concessions in the area of the proposed Baram Peace Park, also known as Upper Baram Forest Area (UBFA), stating: “Our community very much depends on healthy forests for hunting and gathering. We do not see our future in timber extraction. Therefore, we are currently working with other communities, the Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) to establish the Upper Baram Forest Area (UBFA). We want development that respects our forest and our way of life. We do not want to participate in any destruction of the legacy of our ancestors.”

Bujang explains: “The Baram Peace Park project only exists today because our communities have fought strongly against companies that want to log our forests, that is why there are still some primary forests left worth protecting. We started the Peace Park initiative 15 years ago. We want self-determination and ownership over the project. We do not oppose development, we simply want a form of development that protects the forests and our local cultures and doesn’t destroy them.”

In February 2023, 118 representatives from 26 villages of the Penan, Saban and Kenyah came together to adopt the UBFA declaration, demanding amongst others that “The premier forest zone (virgin forest) of UBFA is prohibited from being exploited and must be protected from any industrial scale destruction.” The Baram Heritage Survey, a multi-year socio-ecological survey conducted in the Baram area, also confirmed that there is a remarkably united consensus amongst Ulu Baram villagers that they do not want logging. When asked “Should logging concessions be cancelled in the Ulu Baram Area?” 74 out of 84 residents from five different villages within Baram Peace Park said ‘yes’, and 6 residents said they were ‘not sure’. Only 4 said ‘no’.

The villages of Long Moh, Long Siut, Long Tungan, Long Ajeng, Long Lamam, Ba Sebateu, Sawa Ali, Long Murung, Ba Data Bila, Long Kerong, Long Sepigen, Long Benali, Ba Main, Long Kepang, Ba Kerameu and Ba Pengaran Kelian, who have territory within Samling’s Suling Sela’an and Gerenai FMUs and Shin Yang’s Patah FMU have sent letters since January. Last year, Ba Jawi, Ba Lai and Long Lamai sent similar letters to Samling regarding the Tama Abu and Gerenai FMUs. A few more villages are still discussing sending letters.

Earlier this week, it became public that the Dutch government called on PEFC International to conduct an investigation into the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) following growing concerns about the sustainability of Malaysian timber entering The Netherlands.

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