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HISTORY OF THE BARAM PEACE PARK

Our Land, Our Life

The Indigenous communities of the Upper Baram river basin have been fighting to protect their forest for more than 40 years. These communities depend greatly on healthy primary forest for their food, water, housing materials, and health, and are thus greatly invested in protecting their forests. The objectives of the Baram Peace Park project are to raise awareness and align conservation interests between communities, enable effective monitoring of key sites, prevent illegal logging, and provide local communities with greater opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.

penan villagers hold a community map for the penan peace park
a group of penan community members stand in front of a wooden blockade

2009: The Penan Peace Park

The idea of a protection zone was originally initiated in 2009 by 18 Penan villages and was known as the Penan Peace Park. This initiative was a reaction to the constant encroachment of logging companies into the forest. The Penan communities developed the idea of the park as a way to integrate ecological and cultural conservation with economic advancement. The Penan have a long history of resisting logging in their traditional lands, and thanks to their resistance they have managed to protect some last islands of primary forest through blockades and other forms of nonviolent direct action. The principle of self-determination was essential for the Peace Park: the initiative was developed to protect indigenous rights -- especially the right to land -- and to further traditional institutions.

penan community members raise their hands at a gathering outside with a forest background
Penan community members in kuching preparing to speak to assembly

2014: The Baram Peace Park

While the Penan Peace Park project was originally met with rejection from the government, the situation suddenly changed in 2014 when Sarawak's then head of government Adenan Satem surprised everyone by expressing his clear support for the protection of the forest and giving his backing to the idea of the park. Today, not only the Penan but also Kenyah, Saban and Kelabit villages form part of the park, which is aiming to cover an overall area of 2800 km². Negotiations with the government to formalize the project began in 2017. 

A man holds a microphone in front of a seated audience
community members gathered in long lamai in front of a red bridge

2019: The Upper Baram Forest Area

 

In 2019, the Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) formally submitted a project proposal to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) adapted from the Baram Peace Park concept. The project, officially titled "Management of the Upper Baram Forest Area for Conservation and Sustainable Development with Involvement of Local Communities," aimed to "enhance rural transformation through conservation and sustainable development with good governance." The ITTO-supported project officially began in September 2023, with some positive initiatives but also some shortfalls. The Baram Peace Park campaign aims to fill these gaps and ensure that the project remains led by local communities themselves.

A group of men look over a bamboo fence toward a river
A Kenyah woman in traditional hat smiles at the camera

The Future of the Baram Peace Park

We are now entering the next chapter in the Baram Peace Park’s history. This campaign is a testament to the commitment of local communities, environmental organizations, and government agencies to protect the remaining primary tropical rainforest within the Upper Baram. We are focusing our efforts on reforestation, habitat preservation, and the restoration of wildlife corridors to safeguard the unique flora and fauna that call this place home. Through our collective efforts, we are working to ensure the survival of the Baram Peace Park. The initiatives underway aim to address the challenges of deforestation and habitat loss while honoring the traditions and cultures of the Indigenous communities who depend on this forest.

 

As we look to the future, we recognize the significance of the Baram Peace Park in the global context of conservation and climate action. This unique and fragile ecosystem plays a vital role in carbon sequestration and biodiversity preservation. By protecting it, we contribute to the larger effort to combat climate change and secure a sustainable future for all.

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