Malaysia’s Indigenous people question timber sustainability

Indigenous people from the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo are fighting against plans to cut their forests, saying that while the logging has been certified as “sustainable”, they have not given their consent to the proposals, which could destroy an environment that is home to critically endangered species including gibbons, sun bears and hornbills.

The thousands of Indigenous people who live in the northern Limbang and Baram districts rely on the forest for their physical and cultural wellbeing, while the Baram River is the state’s second-largest and an important life-source.

“Logging will destroy our forests,” Penan leader Komeok Joe said in a statement to Al Jazeera, rejecting the plan. The Penan are a semi-nomadic group living in Borneo.

“It will destroy our rivers and medicines and prevent us from satisfying all of our needs in the forests on which we depend for our lives. We Penan communities reject any logging activities in our Baram territory.”

Village leaders say they were not adequately consulted on a plan by Samling, a Malaysian timber company, to log thousands of hectares of forest. Nor, they say, did they have access to the social and environmental impact assessments conducted for the projects, even though Samling was certified under the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS).

MTCS is operated by the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) and is endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), a leading international forest certification body.

Certification without consent

Samling received the certification for its 148,305-hectare (366,469-acre) Gerenai concession in April this year in the Upper Baram – an area double the size of Singapore.

In the Kenyah Jamok village of Long Tungan, community members say they were not consulted nor made aware of the MTCS certificate until it was granted to Samling.

Instead of logging, they say they want to preserve the environment and are working on a community conservation and ecotourism initiative.

“None of us in Long Tungan were ever visited by anyone from MTCC. How can they say that we have given our free, prior and informed consent?” asked Jamok community leader John Jau Sigau.

Danny Lawai Kajan from the neighbouring village of Long Semiyang also rejects logging in his area.

“Enough is enough. We want the trees to grow back,” he told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the concession in the Kenyah village of Long Julan, Patrick Keheng says his community is also opposed to the plan.

“Samling failed to consult all stakeholders in a transparent fashion,” Keheng said. “We do not want any more destruction to our forest, no more logging.”

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