Heart of Borneo to be promoted as world class ecotourism destination


KOTA KINABALU: The next phase for the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative in Sabah will be to promote HoB as world class ecotourism destination.

Sabah’s Deputy Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest Sector Planning), Frederick Kugan, said a total of 37 ecotourism sites have been identified, including nine community-based tourism sites.

He said the move was important to create economy for the community and tapping into the tourism sector to support conservation efforts in the State.

“This is done through the concept of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) conservation finance strategy,” Frederick said in his presentation at the International Conference on HoB here yesterday.

The two-day event, themed ‘A Decade of HoB Initiative: Accomplishments and the Way Forward’, began yesterday at Magellan Sutera Harbour Resort here.

For the past 10 years, Frederick said the Sabah Forestry Department had been focusing on the maintenance of forest connectivity through strengthening of the protected areas network, and establishment of sustainably managed forest corridors connecting these areas.

“Sabah can be proud that we have achieved greatly in terms of increasing Total Protected Areas (TPAs) by 1 million hectares to 1.9 million hectares from 2007 to 2017.”

He said the initiative had also garnered support from partners to the tune of RM100 million through the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

He said the HoB project had received RM38 million funding from the Federal Government thus far, while there was still RM27.5 million remaining from the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP).

Frederick said the next phase of HoB in Sabah would be to look at how to achieve the target of gazetting the remaining four per cent, or 300,000 hectares as TPAs by 2025.

“It can come from forest reserves, state lands and maybe from existing titles or communities.”

He said the Sabah Forestry Department would be engaging with the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) and Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) to identify critical areas important for protection and areas good for rehabilitation or restoration.

He said the Sabah’s land use in the future might also evolve over time.

Frederick said this might lead to land swap to better enhance protected areas and to retain at least 50 per cent forest cover in the State.

“With all the conservation measures undertaken in Sabah, we believe that there will be at least no net loss or net gain in terms of biodiversity in the State.”

He added that the HoB initiative in Sabah would also be consolidating forest management enterprise (FME) initiative and targeting key sectors in sustainable resource management.

Under the Jurisdictional Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (JCSPO) 2025 initiative, there is a first five-year work plan to identify high conservation value forests, address Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) and catalogue smallholders within the palm oil sectors.

Frederick also stressed the need to expand the influence of HoB and linking up the various conservation efforts in the State such as the Tun Mustapha Marine Park, Klias Peninsular Wetlands, Kinabatangan Corridor of Life, LSKW Ramsar Site and Coral Triangle Initiative Project.

On the other hand, Dato’ Dr Mikaail Kavanagh shared how the idea of HoB came about in his keynote address.

He said it all started at a WWF Asia-Pacific CEOs meeting in Phuket, Thailand in October 2000.

“The idea was to connect up a big enough area to conserve a really representative chunk of Borneo’s rainforest in perpetuity.”

He said WWF Malaysia was then asked to lead the development of the ‘Borneo Forest Initiative’, the first priorities being to secure funding and develop the concept.

“We established small teams in the Malaysia and Indonesian WWF offices. One of my jobs was to get start-up fund.”

Kavanagh said the Malaysian and Indonesian teams quickly got down to working together.

During the first meeting in Singapore, he said WWF Indonesia corrected a conceptual mistake, that there was too much focus on the protected areas and not the overall context.

“We broadened our focus towards sustainability in the surrounding landscape.”

Meanwhile, Kavanagh said support was growing slowly in the WWF network until, at the suggestion of WWF United States, the Borneo Forest Initiative was rebranded as The Heart of Borneo, or HoB.

He said WWF Indonesia then initiated a workshop at Putussibau in West Kalimantan, hosted by the regency government.

“First and foremost, there are three countries on Borneo. What about Brunei?”

In this respect, Kavanagh said three people, namely the Brunei High Commissioner in London, Dato’ Yussof Hamid, WWF Diplomatic Advisor Guilda Navidi-Walker and WWF United Kingdom Conservation Director Francis Sullivan took their own initiative to get Brunei on board.

Later, Stuart Chapman joined the team as the HoB International Coordinator based in Jakarta.

“At this point, the team put a lot of effort into convincing allies and decision-makers on the various values of HoB.”

He said the pace really picked up from the beginning of 2005.

This led to the HoB workshop in Brunei held in April 2005 with government representatives from the three countries, WWF, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and scientists, where they drew up a vision statement.

The vision for the HoB is that partnerships at all levels ensure effective management and conservation of a network of protected areas, productive forests and other sustainable land uses. Borneo’s magnificent heritage is thereby sustained forever.

“The leaders for the governments’ teams at the April 2005 workshop were united in conveying their governments’ support for the initiative.”

Thanks to former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi, Kavanagh said the ASEAN heads of government accepted the importance of conserving the forests and other natural resources of the HoB at their summit in Kuala Lumpur, December 2005.

HoB was accepted as a flagship programme of the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) at the same summit.

On February 12, 2007, the ministers responsible for forestry in Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia signed the landmark declaration on the HoB Initiative in Bali.

Kavanagh arrived in Malaysia in 1978 to coordinate the Malaysian Primates Research Programme for Cambridge University with Universiti Pertanian Malaysia and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

He then spent 25 years with WWF Malaysia, starting with assisting Sarawak Forest Department to establish new protected areas, and later 16 years as national CEO through 2006.

In 2000, Kavanagh proposed that WWF explored the idea of creating transboundary protected areas along the Indonesia/Malaysia border, with Brunei joining in later that eventually became HoB.