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Making locals equal partners in forest management
Published on: Friday, December 09, 2016
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Kota Marudu: The European Union-Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (EU-REDD+) project in Kampung Gana here is set to demonstrate how the lives of forest-dependent communities can change for the better when they are fully engaged in forest management as equal partners.According to the Head of the EU delegation to Malaysia, Maria Castillo Fernandez, what has to happen first is that the communities must be made to feel that they own any project that involves managing a forest.

"We need to bring them along. We need to listen to them and bring the issues in when we work with them.

That's why we, the EU, can't come here and just impose our concepts and principles. We have to adapt to what the communities need."

"That's how we did. We had big principles and adapt them to make them real (to the communities).

(When) we do a project like this, we would involve the local communities as a co-partner. If not the project will not be sustainable," she said when leading a four-member EU delegation for a work visit in the village, Thursday.

It was Maria's first work trip to Sabah since being appointed EU ambassador in Malaysia.

Kampung Gana, located about 25km from Kota Marudu town, is one of the three pilot-cum-demonstration sites in Sabah involved in the program entitled "Tackling Climate Change through Sustainable Forest Management and Community Development" which are funded by the State and European Union under the Sabah-EU REDD+ Project.

There are 450 homes in the village belonging to indigenous communities who resettled there in 2000 from ten villages within and around the Lingkabau Forest Reserve.

The EU-REDD+ project is a 3-year project that started sometime in 2014 to demonstrate initiatives on community-based forest management and REDD+ in Sabah. Its overall objective is to contribute to the sustainable and low carbon development of the State, and to improve Sabah's REDD+ readiness and implementation through demonstration activities to strengthen community engagement in forest protection and sustainable forest management.

In Kampung Gana, the project objectives are to promote reduction of carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, encourage conservation of forest carbon stocks and to involve local communities more closely in sustainable forest management initiatives.

Project activities include the implementation of community-based protection and rehabilitation of water catchment in Gana Forest Reserve and the implementation of community-based agroforestry in degraded lands in and adjacent to Lingkabau Forest Reserve, with technical support from the Sabah Forestry Department and other partners.

During her work visit, Maria and her delegation were briefed on the progress of the project which she hoped would be replicated in more areas in the State when proven to be successful.

"We try to help them the community gain opportunities through forest management. When I come back again, I'd like to see the stakeholders working closely together and see the trees grow. I hope they will tell me "Maria, this is working," she said.

The delegation was also shown one of the project success stories whereby villagers have earned some income from preparing indigenous tree seedlings in nurseries. The seedlings were bought by the project for their watershed restoration.

Under the seedling buy-back component of the project, the villagers had collected and raised thousands of seedlings of mainly Selangan batu, Laran, Kapur and Seraya.

She also hoped that the project would open up more job opportunities to young people in the community who would otherwise move out from the village to search for a living elsewhere.

"I heard of a young boy who told us that he has got a job opportunity and also an opportunity to learn more.

I'd think that we've done our job when we have the younger people on board and to have them telling us that they have an opportunity to work here," she said.

She added that at the end of the project she would like to see that the community especially their children have hope for life and growth in their village.

"What we have here is a complete global example of how a community are closely involved in a project to manage the forest. I hope it'll be duplicated to ensure sustainability."

Also present were Head of Social Foresty Division of the Sabah Forestry Department Mashor Jaini, District Forest Officer Rosli Siki, Kota Marudu District Officer Arnold Joibi, community leaders and villagers of Kampung Gana, among others.



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