Representatives of the Baram Conservation Initiative visit Long Lawen to learn from a community that chose its own kind of development
Belaga/Baram/Miri – In pursuit of an alternative development model for the Baram Conservation Initiative, a delegation of Penan and Kenyah visited Long Lawen, Belaga. The Baram representatives wanted to learn from the experiences of the Kenyah Badeng of Long Lawen. Originally from Long Gang, this group of Kenyah not only resisted the government Bakun Resettlement Scheme to Sungai Asap, but was also able to build a community managed micro-hydro project after they resettled in Long Lawen in 1998.
Gara Jalong, headman of Long Lawen was proud to explain to the visitors that Long Lawen’s microhydro is a major success story as it has been running without major disruption since its operation in 2002. A key feature that contributed to its success is the participation of the community in the installation and operation of the microhydro. Villagers are charged a nominal utility fee which is then used to pay a villager to maintain the system. Another good thing about the microhydro system, Mr Jalong remarked, is that it required minimal technical knowledge, which meant that it can be easily replicated in other rural settings. “Microhydro is a model that we can follow. This is what we want. We want the government to bring this type of development to us,” said Panai Irang, Headman of Ba Abang, a Penan village in the Middle Baram that would have been submerged by the impoundment of the now cancelled Baram Dam.
The visitors also learnt that this group of Kenyah were happy with their decision to resettle at their ancestral land in Long Lawen, Sungai Tekulang instead of the Bakun Resettlement Scheme at Sungai Asap. Mr Jalong cited the main reason to resettle there was because they wanted to secure and defend their ancestral lands. Also, the Long Lawen community felt that they would not have been able to afford to live in Sungai Asap given the higher cost of living. James Nyurang, a Kenyah of Lepo Ga, Tanjung Tepalit, says that “Megadams are not the type of development we indigenous people want. We want to stay on our ancestral lands and alternative energy schemes like microhydro provide the development that we need in our communities, without the destruction of our environment and culture.”
The Baram delegation was deeply inspired by Long Lawen and urges the government to pursue development that is community centred. “The people have the rights to choose what kind of development that they want and the free, prior, and informed consent has to be respected,” adds Peter Kallang, Chairman of Save Rivers.
The Baram Conservation Initiative is a community driven effort that intends to protect the rainforest, establish sustainable livelihood systems, and prevent the expansion of large scale commercial agriculture and extractive industries in the region.