KOTA KINABALU: “Tagal Hutan”, a community-based forestry that has been practised by the natives for generations, may be the perfect solution to sustainably manage Sabah’s forests if it can be fine-tuned and legally recognized by the authorities.
Indigenous People Network of Malaysia (JAOS) director Jannie Lasimbang said traditional social forestry could be further improved and adopted as an effective management tool for conserving and protecting the forests, while at the same time protecting and promoting the interest and needs of the communities living in these areas.
“Tagal, which means prohibition in the Kadazan language, has existed among the native people for a very long time. This concept of traditional system involves collective responsibilities and management of important resources such as land, river, forest, water catchment and wildlife,” she said.
Lasimbang said the understanding and acceptance of tagal among government agencies was very low but there were already policies and laws that support the tagal system, while others hindered or conflicted its implementation.
She noted that the government has yet to institutionalise the participation of the local communities in forest management concepts such as the Indigenous Community Conservation Area (ICCA), which by definition is very similar to the traditional self-governed tagal system.
“Research conducted on ICCA shows that most laws have specific provisions that give mandate to government agencies to work with local partners in conserving and managing land and natural resources sustainably but they often stop from giving full administration to the community,” she said.
She said this when presenting a keynote address at a workshop on Promoting Tagal Hutan to Conserve Traditional Indigenous Practices, Enhanced Watershed Management and Address Climate Change in Lok Kawi yesterday.
Lasimbang believed that a policy framework that is supportive of Tagal Hutan will value add and expedite the conservation of forest, land and culture of the natives, especially if it is accepted and supported by the communities in Sabah such as in the case of “Tagal Sungai”.
However, she said there were several issues that needed to be addressed in order to develop and implement an effective policy framework for Tagal Hutan.
Firstly, she said it was important for the policy to be holistic and not focused solely on exploitation of forest resources.
The aim, she said, should be to promote and protect Tagal Hutan in accordance with international commitments that had been adopted by Malaysia, such as the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, Biodiversity Convention and Climate Change Convention.
“The policy framework should include refined social forestry goals, such as to implement Tagal Hutan in all districts with a clear definition of the time frame of the implementation, the implementing parties, and sources of funding.
“The penalties to be imposed under the Tagal Hutan system should also be clear and the government can play the role in enforcing these penalties,” she said.
She added that it was also crucial that the implementation of the tagal system be flexible and should take into account the various norms and “adat” of the different communities in Sabah.
The system should not be too prescriptive but also not too different from the traditions and norms of the local people, she added.
“Emphasis must also be given to management effectiveness, especially for tagal areas that are within forest reserves, parks, wildlife reserves or water catchment areas.
“For tagal areas that are within individual land, it is important to have a formal agreement where the owner of the land promises not to open or exploit the areas designated for conservation.
“Management incentives can be given to encourage the community to maintain the land within a tagal area, and a mutual conservation objective, be it water supply, wildlife, medicinal plants, non-timber products or construction materials for the local community, should be clearly identified,” said Lasimbang.
The one-day workshop hosted by the Forestry Department was an initiative by Sabah Social Forestry Working Group (SASOF), an organization that was formed following the ASEAN Social Forestry Network Conference in 2014 to discuss local relevant matters on social forestry, community livelihood and climate change issues.
Some 13 speakers from various government agencies, University Malaysia Sabah and non-governmental organisations gave their presentations on topics pertinent to Tagal Hutan and environmental conservation at the workshop.
A signing of SASOF terms of reference was also scheduled for the event but was postponed after the Forestry Department of Sabah could not attend the meeting due to other official commitment.
Speaking at a press conference after her key address, Lasimbang said a formal recognition of Tagal Hutan would boost the confidence and participation of the native communities in joint conservation efforts.
She stressed that community-based forest management had long been practised in Sabah although it was not necessarily known as Tagal Hutan.
“The government has its own concerns about recognizing and promoting Tagal Hutan but this has been practised all this while by the local people,” she said, adding that new laws might not be needed as existing ones could be used to support a systematic implementation of Tagal Hutan.
The workshop was officiated by Sabah Forestry deputy director Frederick Kugan.