Innovative new project will protect rainforest, wildlife and indigenous communities

27th February 2017

Today Raleigh International Borneo and Land, Empowerment, Animals and People (LEAP) launch a ground-breaking project in Malaysia which aims to protect a globally-important rainforest, its wildlife and safeguard the future of indigenous communities.

Sustainable Alternative Livelihoods for Youth in Borneo, or SALY-B, will combine indigenous knowledge about nature with modern conservation techniques, while also supporting young people to start green businesses which protect the environment and help communities thrive.

It is funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) and the legacy donation of Sarah Young, in memory of Raleigh Borneo alumna Sarah.

There are numerous problems facing the Telupid Forest Complex in the heart of Borneo.

In the modern world, where income is important, young people are leaving indigenous communities and heading to the cities in search of work. As a result, the rainforest, which is already suffering the effects of deforestation, palm oil production and poaching, is losing its future protectors.

For generations, indigenous communities have worked in harmony with the environment they live in. But as young people move on that expertise is being lost.

SALY-B plans to tackle all of these problems in a unique way. The project will train 80 young people from 42 indigenous communities in modern conservation techniques and entrepreneurship. They will not only be champions and protectors of the Telupid Forest but also build businesses which will enable them to stay and support their communities, with a focus on conserving the environment.

Raleigh Borneo’s programme manager, Rashida Bhaiji, explains: “This is a unique project. The Telupid Forest Complex is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet and important in terms of conservation. It’s one of the last tree-based forest sinks left in the world, which absorb carbon and release clean air back into the atmosphere. It provides us with a vital service.

“The indigenous people here have lived on this land their whole lives. They are completely, totally, at one with nature. But because of modern pressures like having to earn an income and big plantations coming in, they are slowly losing their way of life.

“So we’re facilitating discussions with the young people, recognising that they know a lot about the environment, and encouraging them to think about what is the right way of conserving it. They already have an innate relationship with the natural environment.

“We want to merge new ways of conservation and management of the natural environment with indigenous ways – there’s something really beautiful which we can create.”

LEAP is an expert on Sabah’s rainforests, the problems faced by indigenous communities and conservation training, making them perfect partners for this project. They will deliver the first phase of training about protecting the environment, alongside Sabah’s Forest and Wildlife Departments.

The whole programme is about partnerships. From the US government funding, to working with 15 government officials, to fitting in with the wider Heart of Borneo initiative to conserve an estimated 24 million hectares of equatorial rainforests, collaboration is key.

In the second part of the project, young volunteers from Malaysia and the UK with experience in business and facilitation will train and support young people in the communities to set up eco-friendly enterprises. This is where Raleigh’s expertise and experience comes in.

From running market research to applying for funding, young people will learn how to build sustainable livelihoods for themselves. It will not only create livelihoods, but protect the future of indigenous communities.

Rashida said: “As young people move away there is a real fear that there will be a loss of way of life. They have knowledge and practices about how we can live with the environment rather than destroy it. For example, for some months of the year some parts of the river are no fish areas to allow stocks to replenish. In the same way if you’re harvesting from the forest you always leave the last fruit on the tree so that when it falls its seeds regenerate.

“What will hold this project together is giving indigenous young people this opportunity to start their own businesses that complement the natural environment they live in.

“We’re hoping that natural resource management and business management training will open their eyes. By learning about the biodiversity in their back yard and how they can protect it, they will think about businesses which complement that. A couple of the young people we will be working with have mentioned starting eco-tourism businesses – that’s great. The key to an eco-tourism business is the natural environment. People are not going to come if there’s nothing for them to see.”

The young people will become champions of their environment, monitoring water in rivers and tracking wildlife to deter poachers. They will share modern conservation techniques and the importance of the rainforest with their communities, reaching nearly 1,500 people by September 2018.

Rashida said: “There’s genuine excitement and acknowledgement that something really positive and powerful is coming to their communities.”

About Raleigh Borneo: Raleigh Borneo works with a diverse set of young people from Malaysia and across to the world to build strong resilient communities across Sabah. Working in collaboration with youth and communities, Raleigh Borneo’s work focuses on sustainable community led natural resource management, increased sustainable livelihoods opportunities and improved community access to clean water and sanitation.

About Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP): LEAP has a vision to engage all communities and empower each other to move from reactive conservation towards proactive stewardship. LEAP works to collaboratively transform a failing system to one that is healthy, transparent and respectful of the interconnectedness of life.

Funding provided by the United States Government

This project was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

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