malaysia: Focus on sahabat alam malaysia
introducing... jok jau Evong, local activist and Sarawak office coordinatorThe rewards: "Seeing communities mobilised, strengthened and acquiring new skills such as mapping, which they can use to protect their land. These empowered communities are then able to resist and oppose encroachments upon their land from logging or other destructive developments such as oil palm and pulpwood plantations."
"I first got involved with SAM / Friends of the earth Malaysia in 1990 as a volunteer three years after my community, Uma Bawang in the Baram region of Miri, Sarawak was affected by the activities of a local logging company, Rimbunan Hijau Sdn. Bhd.
The company had encroached upon traditional territories and commenced
extraction activities without obtaining any prior consent from us. The community was also denied any compensation for the losses and damages done to resources.
Our efforts to protect our land rights soon turned into a historical moment for the community and we linked up with a larger forest and indigenous land rights movement. This particular episode showed the world the hardship and suffering we had to go through when faced with the intimidating tactics of logging companies and their allies.
Because of the growing concern with logging-related issues, I soon moved to Marudi in 1995 to ensure that our communication and other activities with SAM would be better organised. I also wanted to involve myself in a larger land rights movement and help SAM in its collaboration with other logging-affected communities in Sarawak.
Fundamentally, I wanted to ensure that all land and forest-related issues were handled in a more systematic and uniform manner and that affected communities would also be well connected to other local, national and international campaign groups."
"Today I am responsible for running the SAM Marudi office in Sarawak, which has seven full-time staff and two volunteers.
I ensure that SAM's work on forest and land rights-related issues in Sarawak,
whether at research or community level, is well organised and sustainable. In addition, I inform our main office in Penang of all the activities here.
My main tasks involve coordinating staff work plans, field programmes, research work and community mobilisation campaigns, monitoring the latest developments of the logging, dam-building and plantation activities on the ground as well as the conditions of communities affected by the projects.
I also oversee the management of community projects and programmes on the ground, as well as assisting communities who have come to us to complain about the violation of their land rights. Last but not least, I also make sure our work is well connected at the national and international level.
Whilst my work with SAM has been full time since 1995, I am still very much involved with my Uma Bawang village.
Currently, we are running our own community-based organisation - The Uma Bawang Residents Association, (UBRA) which I chair.
UBRA today is a registered association aiming for the implementation of sustainable development as a way to protect the interests of our members. Since 1992, UBRA has implemented and launched several community projects including those on reforestation and forest rehabilitation works. So far, we have planted some 20,000 seedlings of indigenous species such as Meranti, Kapur and Engkabang.
SAM also supports UBRA as we provide a good model for a viable system of community-based forest management and are also able to transfer some of our skills and strategies to other similarly affected communities.
More detailed information on UBRA can also be found at http://www.earthisland.org/borneo, the website of our partner, the Borneo Project.
The Sarawak office is mainly involved in issues that affect both the environment and those communities whose livelihood depend upon it.
"Dealing with the Sarawak State Government. The issues of forest destruction and native land rights in Sarawak cannot be effectively addressed if the policies of the State and the manner in which they are implemented are not reviewed."
As such special attention is paid to the protection of Native Customary Rights (NCR) and the land encroachments and destruction of their resources by logging, large-scale monoculture plantation projects, dam building and sandstone quarrying.
The most pressing issue right now is the large-scale development of oil palm and pulp and paper plantation projects. This is because after 30 years of indiscriminate logging, timber resources are fast depleting. In December 2004, Malaysian media reports revealed that 38 forest plantation licenses covering a total of 2.4 million hectares had been issued in Sarawak. Of this, activities have commenced on 1.4 million hectares. Communities have been vocal in opposing this latest development by the forest industry."
If the Sarawak forests continue to be logged, most of the deforested areas are likely to be converted into oil palm or pulp and paper farms.
The resulting loss of biodiversity and the degradation of our water catchment areas and river systems will intensify and impact human communities, be they forest-dependent or urban communities. Last but not least, the economic gap will widen between the rich - those who benefit from logging and forest conversions, and the poor - forest-dependent communities whose land rights have been violated. In the end what we will have is a failing ecosystem and gross social and economic imbalances that will in turn lead to other problems.
SAM is confronted by a giant task in ensuring that environmental justice is linked to economic and social justice, and that communities' rights are respected in the process.
Thus, we take pride in small victories. SAM's work since 1977 has, despite all the obstacles, led to better laws and monitoring practices, drawn public attention to the destructive practices of the Sarawak logging industry which adversely impact the state's native communities and kept many environmental debates alive in the country.
We need support from international consumers who use our timber and commodities such as palm oil.
They need to keep a sustained pressure on the global tropical timber and palm oil industry and continuously demand that corporations and distributors improve their business practices to ensure products originate from socially and environmentally responsible sources.
International consumers must question their consumption patterns and ask themselves whether the commodities and products they consume can adversely affect the land rights of indigenous communities and ultimately the environment.
Much of our environmental problems today are caused by the lack of political transparency and the manner in which corporations are allowed to operate without having to demonstrate much environmental and social accountability.
If the power to manage natural resources is returned to the hands of communities who have been managing them since time immemorial, I believe we can not only improve social and economic equities at the local level, but we will also be able to manage the world's resources in a more sustainable and rational manner.
Communities are made up of people who are accountable to each other, to their land and their next generation, so when they manage their resources, they will definitely operate very, very, differently to a multinational corporation."