Indigenous reps meet authorities to hand over Upper Baram Forest Area project declaration

The participants of the meeting pose for a group photo.

KUCHING, March 21: Indigenous representatives have met with the Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) and a representative from the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) to hand over a declaration outlining their vision for the Upper Baram Forest Area (UBFA) project.

According to a joint press release by SAVE Rivers, Keruan Organisation, Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF), and The Borneo Project, the meeting took place on March 20 in Kuching.

“The declaration was devised and agreed to by the 118 participants of a meeting in Long Lamam in late Feb 2023. The participants represented 26 villages from the Penan, Kenyah, and Saban communities across the UBFA,” said the press release.

The declaration establishes eight guiding principles of the UBFA, which are free prior and informed consent, governance and self-determination, protection and conservation of the ecosystem, culture sustainability, land, basic services and infrastructure, unity among villages and income generation.

“The declaration also puts in place safeguards around conservation and indigenous rights, including that the core forest zone of the UBFA must be protected from encroachment.

“It also calls for official recognition of indigenous land rights over the area. Baram communities are eager for the UBFA project to begin, and the meeting with the department and ITTO is the next step forward in this unique multi-stakeholder approach that sees previously adversarial parties coming together for the future of the Baram,” the press release read.

It also added that UBFA is seen as a unique approach in efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.

The meeting taking place.

Meanwhile, two participants from the meeting expressed their hopes for the project.

“We’re thrilled that this project is moving forward and that we are able to discuss and work together with Sarawak Forestry Department and International Tropical Timber Organisation in accordance with our Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) rights,” said Erang Ngang from the Kenyah Jamok Community of Long Tungan.

Bilong, from Long Sait, echoed his sentiments, saying, “This opens the door for years of investment into our villages, in the form that we actually want, not decided by someone else.”

It was also reported that the FDS and ITTO had signed an agreement to initiate two projects to improve the management of the UBFA to improve biodiversity conservation and enhance local socio-economic development. — DayakDaily