Doing it the Penan way

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  • Saturday, 04 Aug 2018

Penan community leader Asai Berat from Long Siang showing the newly-launched coffee table book titled The Kubaan-Puak Story: Journey Towards a Green Corridor at its launch in Kuching. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE / THE STAR

IN an area in northern Sarawak known as the Kuba’an-Puak forest management unit (FMU), WWF-Malaysia is conducting a pilot project with state forestry authorities, timber concession holders and the local communities to develop a model for sustainable forest management in the state.

Located between the Kuba’an and Puak rivers, the FMU was used to field test a high conservation value forest toolkit developed for Malaysia, with a view to identify, manage and conserve forest areas with important values such as rare species, wildlife habitats, watershed protection and resources harvested by local communities.

The communities in the area, notably the Penan, were actively engaged and involved in the assessment process.

Stories from the Kuba’an-Puak project, particularly those from the Penans, have now been collected in a coffee-table book published by the state Forest Department and WWF-Malaysia.

Forest director Hamden Mohammad said the stories conveyed the Penans’ special relationship with the forests, mountains, rivers, plants and animals.

“The book contains images from the field and excerpts from the communities.

“It also documents their traditional knowledge and oral history, concerns, hopes and their journey in sustainable forest management alongside other stakeholders towards a green corridor in the Heart of Borneo,” he said when launching “The Kuba’an-Puak Story: Journey Towards a Green Corridor” in Kuching this week.

WWF-Malaysia conservation director Dr Henry Chan said the stories in the book portray how the Penans think about the forest and use its resources for their needs.

“We hope this information will be used in forest management. The book is important as it will pave the way for the community, private sector, government and civil society to work together in sustainable forest management,” he said.

Several representatives from the Penan community were also present at the book launch.

According to Chan, they were members of the community representation committee who form part of the sustainable forest management liaison committee together with forestry authorities and concession holders.

The community representation committee makes decisions on identifying and conserving forest resources which are important to them.

“This is important in order for free, prior and informed consent to be obtained from the community before any logging is carried out,” Chan told me.

He said the project’s main recommendation was that things of importance to the local community within forest management units (FMUs) should be protected and conserved.

“For the Penans, these include their current and former campsites in the forest known as ‘lamin’ and ‘laa’, where they go to harvest sago and other resources such as fruits and rattan.

“Salt licks, where animals go to lick minerals, are also important areas that need to be protected. So the location of these resources, which can be large patches or clusters within the concession area, will be incorporated into forest management and conserved,” he said.

Penan community leader Asai Berat from Long Siang, a village in Kuba’an-Puak, said the community hoped that the forest would be properly managed and preserved through the project.

“The forest is important to us. It is where we go to look for food and rattan for our handicrafts.

“We need the rivers to be clean because we use it for drinking and to process sago,” he said.

Hopefully, the Kuba’an-Puak project will succeed in developing a sustainable forest management model which incorporates elements such as free, prior and informed consent, co-management and benefit sharing with the local communities.

This is the way forward so that our forests and their resources will remain sustainable and continue to be used by the communities that depend on them.

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