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3.1 Establishment of the Heart of Borneo initiative

The Heart of Borneo (HoB) Initiative, assisted by the WWF, is the latest example of voluntary transboundary regional cooperation among three Bornean governments (Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia). Brunei hosted the ground-breaking exploratory 'Heart of Borneo: Three Countries, One Conservation Vision' workshop in April 2005, attended by representatives from government and NGOs agencies of the three countries, to share and discuss the idea of collaboration in protecting the Bornean forest and to see how conservation and sustainable development might be accomplished and promoted for effective partnerships (Nature Conservancy, 2005). A project of this scale would first require strong backing at the highest political levels (both nationally and regionally) and engagement of various stakeholders especially the local communities.

The importance of conserving a network of protected areas in the HoB initiative was acknowledged during the 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur in September 2005. During CoP8 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at Curitiba, Brazil in March 2006, the three Bornean governments announced their joint intention to conserve the HoB. In January 2007, at the 3rd BIMP-EAGA (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines - East ASEAN Growth Area) Summit in Cebu, the HoB along with the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME) were approved as one of the BIMP-EAGA flagship projects in the Natural Resources Development (NRD) cluster in order to reflect the sub-region's contribution through the cluster projects in addressing climate change. The BIMP-EAGA Roadmap to Development 2006-2010 includes development in priority cluster areas such as transportation, natural resources, SMEs and tourism (BIMP-EAGA Secretariat, 2007).

The HoB was officially launched with the signing of a declaration in February 2007 in Bali. This declaration marked the culmination of two years of intense negotiations and targeted communications to ensure that this initiative was positioned at the top of the environmental agendas in the three countries and thus placed HoB on the regional and international stage of conservation priorities. The joint declaration made by these tri-national governments demonstrated the political commitment that is crucial to ensure successful implementation of the initiative. Under the BIMP-EAGA Roadmap, the HoB member countries will conduct their trilateral meetings to advance the development of the initiative by preparing their respective National Project Documents incorporating the strategies and operational plans towards realising the vision of the initiative. Member countries are also urged to take the opportunities (technical and financial assistances) rendered by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as the BIMP-EAGA's Regional Cooperation Advisor, and support offered by other development partners, particularly the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) as well as active participation of the WWF in the region. To date, there have been two trilateral HoB meetings, with Bandar Seri Begawan hosting the 1st HoB Trilateral Meeting in July 2007 and the 2nd meeting was held in Pontianak in April 2008.

3.2 General underlying concerns

The Borneo rainforest is considered to be one of the world's remaining grand blocks of equatorial rainforest. The island's forest landscape is one of the Earth's most biologically diverse forest areas harbouring about 6% of the world's total biodiversity, with abundance of wildlife species of flora and fauna (WWF, 2005). This is consistent through various field studies reported by WWF that in a plot of 10 hectares there are over 700 species of trees (WWF, 2005). For comparison, this is equivalent to the number of trees species that could be found in North America alone (WWF, 2005). Borneo and Sumatra are the only places with the coexistence of elephants, rhinoceros and orang-utans. The WWF (2005) recorded that the island has a high level of endemism with 44 of 222 mammal species, 370 of 420 bird species, 19 of 394 fish species and 6,000 of about 15,000 plant species being unique to the island. Furthermore, with an average of three species being found every month over the past decade, it is expected that Borneo will continue to be the source of many new discoveries according to the WWF (2005).

The HoB initiative is an effort of "conservation for development" aimed at conserving and sustainably managing the ecologically interconnected tropical rainforest coverings almost 220,000 km² or about a third of the island in order to counteract massive deforestation particularly in Malaysian and Indonesian part of the island. The island's deforestation rate is said to be at 3.9% during 2000-2005 period and today only half of the island's forest cover remains (Figure 3) according to WWF (2005). The total proposed area for the Heart of Borneo is 31% of the island's landmass with 57.1% of the project will be within the administrative boundaries of Indonesia, 42.3% will be located in Malaysia and 1.6% in Brunei (Forestry Department, 2007b). The HoB initiative is designed not only to protect large areas of forests heritage but also to provide water and food security as well as to support the cultural survival for the people of Borneo (Haji Nordin, 2007). Humans have lived from the forests products for many centuries and early adoption of agricultural techniques, such as forest clearance was compatible with the natural environment (Rautner et. al, 2005).

According to Badiozamani (2007), globally an estimated 800 million people live in or around forests and use forest resources for fuel, food, medicine and income; and of these, 70 millions are indigenous people living in remote areas. Badiozamani (2007) further added that they are often the poorest population groups that depend completely on forest resources for their livelihoods and experienced the greatest depth of poverty due to lacking of essential services such as education, healthcare and sanitation. Additionally, they are further marginalised if low population densities coupled with distance from administrative centres and poor communication often translate into a lack of voice in state and national affairs (Badiozamani, 2007).

Thus in this regards, it is recognised that the HoB initiative will somehow address the issues of poverty, survival and livelihoods of its indigenous communities as Borneo has a population around 17.7 million, of which 4 million are the indigenous people of hundreds of ethnically distinct tribes, collectively known as the Dayak. Each of the ethnic tribes has a distinct culture, social organisation and language. The Dayak are the native farming population of Borneo mostly found in the interior of Malaysian and Indonesian parts of the island though there are also some coastal populations (Rautner et. al, 2005). Both economic growth and environmental management are undoubtedly inseparable and crucial to sustaining and improving the quality of life of the people.

In Borneo, the transboundary forest needs holistic management approaches and the most important is common and coherent policy platforms of the trilateral governments. Conservation through joint actions is at centre stage in the HoB initiative and active trilateral cooperation at the operational level will enhance and strengthen this existing subregional cooperation. The three nations have developed and agreed on the five thematic areas to be covered by the initiative during the 2nd HoB Trilateral meeting as follows:

  • Transboundary Management to address issues of management of natural resources and socioeconomic welfare of local people on the border areas;
  • Protected Areas Management to enhance and promote effective management of protected areas within the HoB area, with the emphasis at those situated on the common border, in order to conserve and maintain forest biodiversity and the ecological linkages;
  • Sustainable Natural Resource Management to manage the natural resources outside the protected areas network through the development and implementation of sustainable land uses;
  • Ecotourism Development to recognize and protect the value of special natural, cultural and heritage places or sites within the HoB area; and
  • Capacity Building to ensure the effective implementation of HoB initiative at all levels, both public and private sectors and at the local community.

The above thematic areas are developed by recognising the past, current and future threats to Borneo's forests. Managing this initiative effectively remains a challenge, particularly in light of the high pressure on natural resources due to commercial interests. Environmental goals in forest managements are still overshadowed by concerns for economic development (WWF, 2005). Market demands for natural resources have even encouraged some government agencies to decommission part of their own protected area systems by granting concessions for timber harvesting and commercial agricultural plantations (WWF, 2005).

The industrial destruction of the rainforest is a fairly recent phenomenon with the recent commoditization and commercialization of the rainforest which started a serious threat to the sustainable use of the forests (WWF, 2005). The extraction of timber and the exploitation of the forest have brought with it the economic transformation of traditional rural communities which are often visible in the coastal human settlements. The politic of conservation in the region captured the world's attention during the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Brazil when statements were made by Malaysia for the mistreatment of Third World countries by First World environmentalists. Analysis revealed by Hurst (1990) that the region began to experience forest loss (Figure 3) due to exploitation of natural resources for western markets going back to colonial days initially with establishment of rubber estates. It was only with the advent of rubber as a major source of revenue that triggered forest destruction process on the island's lowland areas (Hurst, 1990). The large rubber plantations usually obtained most of their manpower from the densely populated island of Java during the early 1900s.

However, during the corrupted Suharto regime in the 1960s until early 2000, Indonesian Borneo was the target for transmigration schemes with transmigration reaching almost 180,000 per decade with the rate peaking in the mid 1980s (Holmes, 2002). With these transmigration schemes came the conversion of forests to farmland although some were resettled on lands often inadequate for traditional farming. Unable to support themselves with subsistence agriculture, many of these people went to work for timber industry especially with logging companies which have strong backing from the government and it was during the 1970s that logging began in the less populated and remote areas (Rautner et al., 2005).

In recent years, forest conversions into economically attractive plantations, most notably palm oil, have rapidly been pursued driven by booming demand for biofuels and edible food oils (WWF, 2005). According to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (2009), oil palm is the second largest oil crop after soybean oil, producing 28 out of 95 million tonnes per year of the world's total vegetable oils. In Borneo, oil palm plantations first started in Sabah and Sarawak in the 1980s and 1990s respectively, after successfully being implemented in the Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) in the 1960s.

According to Curran et. al (2005) parts of the explanations for this is as a means to bring rural subsistence farmers into diversifying agricultural plantations of rubber, which were once the major export commodities of Malaysia in the early 1970s to 1990s. It became clear that palm oil would bring in more profits than long-term timber production from natural forests although it has in the past decades timber generated revenue from export earnings and has contributed to the nation's fast economic growth. Thus large areas of lowland forests were converted to accommodate the rapid expansion in oil palm planting where there is greater land availability in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) as opposed to the Peninsular Malaysia.

Currently, Malaysia is the world's largest producer and exporter of palm oil, with plantations covering over three million hectares in 2001, and over 43%, or 1.6 million hectares, being in East Malaysia (>30% and >13% in Sabah and Sarawak respectively) according to Dros (2003). Indonesia has also seen the rapid growth of extensive palm oil plantations with over 5 million hectares now converted to palm oil growth, and once the plantations are fully grown and matured is likely to become the leading palm oil producer after 2016, with a projected production of 18,000 million tonnes, representing 44% of the world's production while Malaysia's estimated output will be around 38% (Hai, 2000).

The plan to create the world's largest palm oil plantation by Chinese investors covering an area of 1.8 million ha in the mountainous regions of Kalimantan along the Indonesian border with Malaysia was halted with the signing of the HoB Declaration. WWF criticised the plan as it was a cover for logging into the most remote upland areas with very low population density. Moreover, the establishment of the new plantations are better suited on lands that had been degraded and non-forested (WWF, 2007).

Again in relation to the expansion of commercial plantations (oil palm and timber in particular), burning is often the cheapest way to clear new land following clear cutting. The lowland forests particularly the peat swamps are known to be the worst affected areas by forest fires that occurred in the Indonesian Borneo in 1997-1998. It was estimated by WWF (2005) that over 6.5 million ha burned during the 1997-1998 period. Much of the incidences are due to large and uncontrolled burning heavily impacted by logging and commercial land conversion especially for oil palm plantations by draining the peatlands, although small-scale swidden farming especially for rice cultivation contributed a fairly small share to the problem (WWF, 2005).

The intensity and frequency of forest fires during the 1997-1998 coupled with the El Nino event had caused widespread haze and had a severe impact on air quality, resulting in health problems and disrupting economic activities in the region for months. This has prompted the ASEAN governments to intensify regional cooperation in sound fire management especially the fire use policies in land conversion after similar episodes in the early 1990s and the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution 2002. To date, all member states except Philippines and Indonesia have ratified the agreement (ASEAN Secretariat, 2009). Similar incidences again occurred during the forest fires in 2006 but to a lesser extent. So far, the value of peatswamp forests as carbon stores has received limited attention in decisions of the UNFCCC in the past as it does not cover forestry fully despite significant emission of carbon in recent years as a result of degradation and fires.

For decades, natural forests have been under pressure of rampant commercial logging. As forests in the Peninsular Malaysia became scarcely depleted in 1970s, both Sabah and Sarawak become the primary source of timber. Similarly with Kalimantan become the major source of timber when many parts of the Indonesian Republic experienced the same fate except those Indonesian provinces on New Guinea Island. Industrial logging expanded significantly in 1980s and 1990s and Borneo underwent intensive logging with 60 to 240 m³/ha of timber being harvested versus 23 m³/ha in the Amazon (Curran, 2004). More timber was exported from Borneo during the period than from both Latin America and Africa in order to meet the increasing demand of industrialised nations for tropical hardwoods. The over exploitation of timber (indicating poor forest management) has caused shortages of raw materials and this has prompted both governments to embark on large-scale timber plantations.

It is noted that forest degradation is often a result of extraction of high value trees. If the density of high value trees is high enough, such extraction can lead to deforestation even in the absence of agriculture. It is said that forest encroachments tend to occur in areas with rich natural resources and often varying in scale and in magnitude (EIA, 2004). Two of the most common forms of these activities are illegal logging and timber trafficking. Illegal logging is a common phenomenon in many major timber producing countries whereas the latter occur between timber exporting and timber importing countries. Several compelling evidences were reported that forest illegal activities often spill over international borders.

The cases of illegal logging became more apparent in late 1990s due to this timber crisis where logging activities were found to encroach protected areas such as the Kutai National Park, Gunung Palung National Park and the Tanjung Puting National Park (one of the last strongholds of the endangered orang-utans) in East Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan respectively due to poor forest governance and weak law enforcement (EIA, 2004). The incidences of forest fires in 1997/1998 further fragmented these protected areas and destroyed the wildlife's habitats. Thus illegal logging contributes to deforestation through triggering a chain of land use change. Investigations carried out by EIA (2004) found out smuggling routes from West Kalimantan and East Kalimantan to Sarawak and Sabah respectively for poaching and timber trafficking activities.

3.3 The importance and progress of Brunei HoB

Brunei is also not spared from several of the threats mentioned above. It has no intention to have any oil palm plantations although in the past decade there are few proposals put forth by investors from neighbouring countries in order to expand their plantations across the border into Temburong and Belait (Forestry Department, 1999).

There has been little work on Brunei on such issues but it cannot be denied that these activities do occur sporadically, albeit on a relatively small scales. Various forest crimes related to encroachment of forest products in the country is predominantly the illegal extraction of ramin (Gonystylus bancanus), gaharu (Aquilaria spp.) and bakau/mangrove (Rhizophora spp.). The first two species are of particular significant as they are listed as CITES' Appendix II indicating that the current levels of exploitation maybe a significant factor in increasing their threat to extinction.

Ramin is one of the highly priced commercial timber and its habitat and distribution is restricted only to peatswamp forests in Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sumatra), Malaysia (Sarawak) and Brunei. There were several incidences of illegal harvesting of ramin especially in Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan as mentioned previously and also in Brunei. The peatswamps forests in Brunei is said to be the least disturbed in the northwestern Borneo (Davies and Kamariah, 1999) is currently accounts for 15.6% of the country's land area (FAO, 2005) with ramin, pulaie (Alstonia pneumatophora) and alan (Shorea Albida) as dominant species. The tight and even canopy of this community gives the appearance of a field of cauliflowers from the air. As a swamp species, ramin is prone to over exploitation and cannot be cultivated on plantations and evidence from Sarawak indicates poor regeneration rates of ramin in over logged forests (Currey et. al, 2004).

Meanwhile, gaharu, more commonly known as aloeswood or agarwood, is the trade name of highly resinous fragrant and aromatic wood that is used for incense, perfume, traditional medicines and other products, and that occurs as a result of fungal infection (Soehartono and Newton, 2003). Its distribution is relatively low in natural forests throughout the region including China and India. It was indicated that 3 out of 15 Aquilaria spp. occur in Borneo, namely A. malaccensis, A. beccariana and A. microcarpa. The species occurrence in Brunei is supported and listed in the 'A Checklist of Brunei Trees' (Pukul and Ashton, 1964).

According to a study by Wollenberg (2001), since 1993 prices paid to collectors for best quality gaharu have ranged from USD300/kg to USD580/kg in East Kalimantan. However, harvesters could never be sure whether an Aquilaria tree would actually yield gaharu. People in a hurry especially outside collectors had a reputation for felling many of these trees unnecessarily. Approximately 2000t annually of this forest produce is traded in Singapore. Although there have been some experiments with Aquilaria domestication in Indonesia the form of plantation and inoculation of the trees with fungus, none have so far provided a commercial source of gaharu (Soehartono and Newton, 2002). Therefore most gaharu being traded is exclusively collected from standing Aquilaria trees in natural forests.

Thus it can be said that forest encroachment in Brunei can be due to both internal and external factors. The internal factors are primarily due to the self-explanatory nature of Brunei's territorial anomaly, which make the country prone to, and at risk of, encroachment if without the protection of enforcement mechanisms. The second internal factor is due to the thick natural forest cover that remains highly isolated. As there are designated compartments of production forest located in the currently inaccessible interior, the intended future production from these compartments will require construction of logging roads. The construction of logging roads both directly degrades the habitat, and will result in the forest becoming more accessible to encroachment along the remote transfrontiers border unless manned on regular basis enforcement agencies.

Among the external factors of forest encroachment is the spill over effects. It would appear that majority of violators are found to be nationals from neighbouring countries, who enter the Brunei without proper travel documents and permits to extract forest products (Haji Nordin, 2005). Brunei offers an attractive target for this illegal harvesting of forest products a the natural standing forest has been severely depleted in Sarawak along the border with Brunei, with an extensive stretch of the border to both the east and west of Brunei essentially marking the transition from forest to non-forested land. The Sarawak government admitted that there were several illegally constructed lanes (mouse trails or dirt lanes) from its districts of Limbang, Lawas and Baram entering the border areas in Brunei (Borneo Bulletin, 2005).

Operating outside the law unfortunately creates a host of negative impacts on various aspects of the socioeconomic, environmental protection and political environment of the country such as evasion of tax on forest revenues, loss of valuable forest assets and national security. Declining environmental quality through forest loss reduces the value of forests as habitat for biodiversity, genetic banking and carbon storage. As pointed by Palo et. al (2000), the overall environmental degradation related to deforestation can be considered to degenerate the economic potential for societal development, an issue that is especially critical for countries in economic transition. Deforestation through forest crimes often undermines the country's capacity and government accountability to impose law and order in the sector. It undercuts economic efficiency whilst diverting potential investment in meeting the government efforts of diversifying the economy. Similarly, other cross border issues are incited as the result of these activities such as trafficking of illegal drugs, arms and immigrants, etc.

The three governments are committed to making the HoB initiative a success, even though in general (and as with any transboundary issue) there are various complex and wide ranging issues to be addressed. Thus HoB will somehow ease the trilateral governments on addressing these issues as no single country will be able to overcome these issues alone which can be solved through this initiative based on principles of mutual trust, respect, equitable responsibility and benefit-sharing. The three countries take different approaches in its implementation due to varying degree of socioeconomic structures and levels of development.

The HoB initiative is seen as a good platform that will enable the three countries to align policies and strategies (both internally and with each other), with the HoB Declaration providing an umbrella policy, and an underlying two-tier participatory approach. The first participatory approach is the harmonisation of internal policies within each respective country so that there would be a common goal to protect the environment under the purview of HoB. This includes both inter-sectoral and inter-regional policies. Undeniably different sectors such as forestry, energy, agriculture, industry have their own objectives which are often contradicting each other. Furthermore, states/provincials, divisionals/regencies and districts governments often create and promote different policies from the central/federal government. For example the decentralisation policy in Indonesia since early 2000, with a significant transition of power and responsibility to regional government, appears to complicate the efforts toward the more coherent and inter-sectoral policy (.

The second participatory approach is the creation of coherent trilateral policy to be supported by strong foundations such as effective information-sharing mechanism. The strategies in protection and conservation of forests vary amongst the three governments. The policy of one of the trilateral governments might even put pressure to the others especially cross border issues such as timber and wildlife trafficking.

In this relation, Brunei is ahead among the three governments involved in the initiative. Brunei completed the national project document named Project Implementation Framework (PIF) as cited from the report of 2nd HoB Trilateral meeting (2008) which was carried out in June to November 2007. Brunei had also made efforts to raise public interest by making the workshop open to stakeholders who further enhanced the process and completion of the country's PIF.

In April 2008, the Government officially announced the establishment of the country's HoB Council and HoB Centre, which will provide policy guidance to the centre. The Government had shown exemplary leadership in maintaining the momentum of the HoB initiative while waiting for the other two governments in the stages of preparing and finalising their national project documents. It is understandable for the length of time required by both Malaysia and Indonesia to prepare their national project documents due to the complexity of stakeholders' consultations between federal/central, states/provincials, divisionals/regencies and districts governments with their respective communities.

The overall progress of Brunei (HoB) can be found in Appendix 1. Currently there are four projects being implemented since the inception of the HoB National Council as listed below:

  • A permanent field experiments on the long term effects of climate change on rainforest ecosystem led by Panama based the Centre for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and University Brunei Darussalam (UBD) set up at Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre (KBFSC) in Temburong (Brunei Times, 2009a);
  • Rehabilitation of Brunei's peat swamp forests and studies on the rate of peat accumulation of peatswamps forests in order to improve better understanding on the role of this ecosystem in climate change mitigation (Brunei Times 2009b);
  • Biodiversity survey of Sungai Ingei Protection Forest leading to better understanding of the wildlife state of the forest, which is connected to Gunung Mulu National Park across the border (Brunei Times, 2009a);
  • Collaborative microbial bio-research between the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) and the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation (NITE), Japan (Brunei Times, 2008).

In general, the above projects have shown how Brunei's forest resources could be initiated for environmentally sound development including providing a platform for technological and knowledge transfer, information exchange and benefit sharing through research and development whilst developing the country's capacity and human resources in particular fields.