Project lists

21.Community-based sustainable forest management of Sungai Medihit Watershed Sarawak, Malaysia
21 Mar 2022     
Project title: Community-based sustainable forest management of Sungai Medihit watershed, Sarawak, Malaysia [Project ID: 2015P4-MAS]
Supervisory agency: International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)
Executing agency: Sarawak Forest Department, Malaysia
Budget in USD (total/APFNet grant) 666,710/460,000
Duration: July 2015–June 2018
Target economy: Malaysia
Location: Ulu Limbang, Northern Sarawak
  • Promote sustainable forest management in Sungai Medihit watershed by building the capacity of the community to manage forests sustainably using an innovative operational model.
  • Establish a new governance mechanism for community development and forest management.
Expected outputs:
  1. Sustainable forest management will be improved through preparation of science-based forest management plans, demonstration of alternative livelihoods and establishing effective community forest management mechanisms.
  2. Capacity of communities to manage forests sustainably and develop livelihoods will be enhanced.
  3. Socioeconomic conditions will improve by renovating community service infrastructures.

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 practising 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.

Figure 1. Kelabit village in Long Napir, Sungai Medihit watershed
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 fairly 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 aims 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.
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.
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:

  • Engage local stakeholders.
  • Empower communities to manage community conservation areas.
  • Develop further resources that can be traded to earn money or make saleable products.
  • 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 has been 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. 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.
Raising 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. All activities equip villagers with new skills and increase their household income without dependence on timber and non-timber forest products.

Figure 2–3. Two households from the Kelabit and Penan communities were selected to demonstrate chicken farming. Photo credit: Forest Department Sarawak.
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 land owners 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.
The project was successfully completed at the end of 2018. Key achievements are presented in this YouTube video.