Project changes the lives of two ethnic communities in Malaysia

Project title: Community Based Sustainable Forest Management of Sungai Medihit Watershed, Sarawak, MALAYSIA [2015P4-MAS]
Supervisory agencies: International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)
Executing agency: Sarawak Forest Department, Malaysia 
Budget in USD (total / APFNet grant): 666,710 / 460,000
Duration: 07/2015 – 06/2018
Target economy: Malaysia
Objective: To promote the sustainable forest management in Sungai Medihit watershed area by building the capacity of the community, demonstrating innovative operational model and establishing new governance mechanism on community development.
Expected outputs:  Improved community forest management capacity. Community forest management plans developed, and innovative forest management techniques demonstrated; Enhanced capacity of community-forest-based livelihood development; Improved living conditions by renovating the community service infrastructure.
 ♦  Baseline survey on resources and socio‐economic development
 ♦  Community forest management planning
 ♦  Demonstrate the sustainable community forest management practices
 ♦  Establish the participatory community forest management mechanism
 ♦  Alternative livelihood activities
 ♦  Infrastructure improvement contributing to SFM

Project background
Covering about 35,400 ha, the Sungai Medihit watershed is located in the UIu Limbang division in northern Sarawak, Malaysia, where it is home to two ethnic communities, the Kelabit and Penan. The Kelabits were the first inhabitants, living in this watershed since the early 1890s. They live in a village of longhouses and have been practicing a form of shifting agriculture for generations. In contrast, the Penans were formerly nomadic indigenous people living in the deep forests of Sarawak and Brunei and were settled in the Sungai Medihit watershed by the Sarawak State Government in 1972. 
Both communities continue to live in traditional ways and are mainly dependent on the forests for their livelihoods. However, the Kelabits have found that forests with sufficient game for hunting are disappearing and rivers for fishing are polluted due to their own shifting cultivation practices, as well as logging operations by large companies. The Penans face similar environmental challenges as they depend more heavily on forests and rivers for hunting and fishing and, compared to the Kelabits, are inexperienced in agricultural practices. For example, some communities continue to practice large-scale hill paddy cultivation but given the steepness of hills and lack of experience in terracing, this form of agriculture is unsuitable in many areas. Low agricultural yields and depletion of forest resources trap both communities in severe poverty.
To restore forests and help communities improve living conditions, APFNet, Sarawak Forest Department of Malaysia and the International Tropical Timber Organization signed a tripartite agreement to launch the project “Community-based sustainable forest management of Sungai Medihit watershed” in 2015. This project aimed to restore degraded forests and promote sustainable forest management in Sungai Medihit watershed, as well as build the capacity of local communities, demonstrate innovative models for alternative livelihood activities and establish a new co-management mechanism for community-based forest resource management.

Project featured topics
Improving community forest management
The project first carried out surveys to collect data on forest resources and socioeconomic circumstances of both communities, with assistance from the two communities. With support from the Sarawak Forest Department, the survey results enabled researchers to develop five-year community forest management plans (CFMP) 2018–2023 for the Kelabit and Penan communities, identifying key priorities and strategies for the management of forest resources.

Forest resource investigation for developing the community forest management plans 
Two sustainable forest management demonstration sites were officially established by the Sarawak Forest Department at Long San for the Kelabit community (753 ha) and Ulu Sg Terasak for the Penan community (678 ha). Both sites are reserved for community use, with APFNet-supported forest management activities in some areas. The management objectives of CFMPs include: 1) engage local stakeholders; 2) empower communities to manage community conservation areas; 3) develop further resources that can be traded to earn money or make saleable products; and 4) enforce laws and regulations pertaining to the catchment. 
To support the implementation of CFMPs and joint management of forest resources in Sungai Medihit watershed, a co-management agreement between the Sarawak Forest Department and the two communities were developed. Through this agreement, the communities were given opportunities to provide input regarding the management of their forests, in particular, the sustainable forest management demonstration sites. The agreement also enables the Sarawak Forest Department to support communities to rehabilitate forests.
Raising communities’ living standards
The project also worked to improve livelihoods of the Kelabit and Penan communities by introducing four alternative livelihood activities. Establishment of the Tagang System at the Sungai Medihit River encourages sustainable fishing practices by protecting fish stocks for the long-term and sustainable benefit for communities. The system empowered villagers to manage and protect a nearby stretch of water from overfishing and pollution. The fish can be caught after one to two years but all small fish as well as those of breeding size would be released back into the water to ensure survival of the fish. Villagers were also trained in chicken rearing, vegetable farming and selected homestay sites were upgraded to be tourist-ready.

Two households, one each from the Kelabit and Penan communities were identified to demonstrate chicken farming.
The renovated homestay for tourists at Long Napir 
The improvement of infrastructure was directly requested by communities at multiple points during the project design phase. The requests included construction of a road from Long Napir to Kampung Bahagia (local landowners have agreed); solar energy power systems to provide electricity for households in Long Napir and Kampung Bahagia; and renovation of a guest house for the community school to provide accommodation for Penan parents while settling their children at school. 

Project outcomes
The project was designed to involve the direct participation of the Kelabit and Penan communities and maximize their involvement to help achieve sustainable livelihoods and improve the sustainability of forest management. After three years of implementation, the project has realized its expected goal and objectives through various activities on alternative livelihood improvement and capacity development on community forest management. The project benefits the communities financially and enhances economic returns to the village. The preliminary outcomes could be summarized as follow:
Improved community forest management capacity through establishing effective community forest management mechanisms.
The CFMPs and the co-management agreement signed between the Sarawak Forest Department and the two communities showed an effective way for community forest management in Sungai Medihit Watershed. This was the first time the Sarawak Forest Department was a party to the development of CFMPs and the department is keen to see these plans work in practice, leading to the development of CFMPs elsewhere in Sarawak. “The state government remains committed to ensuring the forest and forest resources are managed in a sustainable manner and this project is very much in line with these goals” said Hamden Mohammad, Director of Sarawak Forest Department at the project completion workshop. 
Improved living conditions and enhanced capacity of community-forest-based livelihood development.
Four alternative livelihood activities have been introduced. All these activities equip the communities with new skills and increase their household income without depending too much on timber and non-timber forest products.

Handicrafts produced by women from the Penan community
As explained by Ms Nomie from the Penan community, "Initially, the APFNet Project gave overall USD 400 to four women, including me, in my community for developing a handicraft business. I now earn USD750 per month from selling handicrafts I make”. Handicrafts are sent to Limbang every Sunday and are collected by the NGO Helping Hand Penan that helps to sell the goods to Brunei Darussalam, Miri, Bintulu, Kuala Lumpur and even to the United States.

 Project documents
Project Proposal   Completion Report   Evaluation Report

 News and related information 
APFNet provides support to develop community-based management in the Sungai Medihit Watershed, Sarawak, Malaysia
Project changes the lives of two ethnic communities in the Sungai Medihit Watershed, Malaysia
Project photos