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malaysia: halting forest destruction and biodiversity loss

Government-sanctioned logging and forest clearance for oil palm plantations, partly to feed the growing demand for agrofuels, are destroying Malaysia's primary forest at an astonishing rate. Hydroelectric dams and hydro-powered aluminium smelters are also a threat.
malaysia: halting forest destruction and biodiversity loss

Cultural annihilation accompanies this destruction: approximately 70% of Sarawak's two million inhabitants are Indigenous and forest-dependent people, whose way of life and Native Customary Rights are extinguished along with their forests. Yet forest dwellers are often scattered, unaware of their rights, and afraid to resist the government.


what happened?

Friends of the Earth Malaysia / Sahabat Alam Malaysia is working hard to halt forest destruction and biodiversity loss, and to promote socially just and ecologically sound development. As part of this effort, FoE Malaysia is striving to raise forest dwellers’ awareness of their rights, as well as providing them with more information about the threats they face, so that they can defend their culture and lands.


Staff made numerous visits to longhouse communities, to discuss logging, plantation and other industrial developments. They helped communities understand their rights and gave them information about legal and other processes they can use to resist encroachment onto their land. They also supported communities by helping to identify leaders willing to make a stand, gathering evidence for legal cases, taking statements, writing protest and appeal letters to the authorities, and sending press statements to the media.


One key strategy for defending forests is mapping areas where biodiversity could be lost and Native Customary Rights extinguished. FoE Malaysia has been helping to train people who are already familiar with their local biodiversity in mapping techniques, and conducting field surveys.


FoE Malaysia also gave practical assistance to communities in many different ways, including, for example, installing a piping system, expanding plant nurseries and assisting with agriculture. In communities such as Long Belok and Long Nen, FoE Malaysia helped with community reforestation activities, in which local people planted areas with local species of trees and medicinal plants: FoE Malaysia supplied much needed equipment, including plastic netting and tools.


FoE Malaysia also assisted lawyers working on important legal cases involving Indigenous communities defending their land and Native Customary Rights against logging and plantation encroachments, illegal sand quarrying, aluminium smelting, and wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution. FoE Malaysia gathered and drafted witness statements, and produced maps. These cases will help shape future interpretation of Native Customary Rights law.


FoE Malaysia also worked on the research, writing and legal checks for a report “Sarawak: Green Gold or Green Wash?” which was published by FOE International. This publication examines the Malaysia’s palm oil lobby’s claim that palm oil production in Sarawak is sustainable.


FoE Malaysia’s work with numerous communities has raised forest dwellers’ awareness of their rights and the threats to them, and mobilized communities to defend their culture and their land. The Long Nen community, for example, has successfully kept timber company Jambo Green out of their communal forest area. The Long Belok community is also constructing a pre-school, an idea initiated by FoE Malaysia, and wants to establish a sustainable community forest management plan, where they can run nature excursions and awareness programmes.


FoE Malaysia’s advocacy work also meant that questions were raised in Parliament and the Sarawak State Assembly about issues detailed in the “Sarawak: Green Gold or Green Wash?” report. This publication was an important contribution to debunking the myth that oil palm is being cultivated sustainably in Sarawak. Whilst the answers given were unsatisfactory, the process is making the Government more accountable and transparent.


what next?

This vital work will continue in 2009 and beyond. In particular, FoE Malaysia will make a documentary showing the plight of plantation-affected communities in Bintulu, Sarawak.


FoE Malaysia will continue its advocacy work, with Parliamentarians and State Assemblymen and women, to raise their awareness of the Indigenous communities’ plight. They will also continue lobbying the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, to get the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples implemented by the Federal Government.


with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)


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