With less than 10% of the primary rainforest remaining in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, the Indigenous Penan community works to restore their forests with tree nurseries for native species.
In the tree nursery in Long Kerong supported by Baram Heritage Coalition member Bruno Manser Fonds, seedlings are cared for and planted for reforestation.
Almost 113,000 square kilometers: This is the incredible area of tropical rainforest that was cut down last year, according to the World Resource Institute. For comparison: the total area of Switzerland covers just under 41,300 square kilometers!
The valuable trees are felled for various reasons. These include the exploitation of mineral resources, the production of wood and paper, and the development of oil palm and soy plantations.
It's not just animals who lose their habitat and suffer from deforestation, Indigenous peoples are displaced at an astounding rate. And ultimately, deforestation affects us all – because logging accelerates climate change.
Virgin forest destroyed for oil palm plantations and dams
The ancient forest of Borneo is one of the most species-rich in the world. But the rainforest of Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, has now been largely destroyed.
The landscape is no longer dominated by trees, but by oil palm and timber plantations. There are huge dams in major rivers that are intended to cover part of the high demand for electricity in Southeast Asia. These flood huge areas of forest and contribute to the extinction of animal and plant species in the jungle.
Some areas were deforested decades ago - a so-called secondary forest now grows there. The species composition of a secondary forest differs greatly from that of an untouched "virgin" forest. Biologically, the secondary forest is never as diverse as a primary forest.
Tree nurseries for the rainforest
The Penan, an Indigenous community, experience the deforestation up close. The community, which numbers around 10,000 people, has lived in the jungle of Sarawak for centuries. A few hundred Penan still adhere to their traditionally nomadic way of life in the rainforest, but the majority have settled down.
In the tree nursery in Long Kerong supported by Bruno Manser Fonds, seedlings of rare trees are cared for.
The Penan are some of the only people who have succeeded in protecting large, contiguous areas of primary forest from deforestation. The Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF) supports the Penan in reforesting degraded areas using seeds from the primary forest. To this end, the BMF launched a pilot project in 2019 with a tree nursery in Long Kerong, a Penan settlement in Sarawak's upper Baram area.
The project enables the Penan to help the surrounding communities with reforestation. The primary forest provides high-quality seeds for tree species that have become rare due to deforestation and slash-and-burn agriculture. The Penan collect these seeds in the forest and grow them into seedlings in the tree nursery. With these, other Indigenous communities can regenerate their destroyed forest areas and renaturalize water catchment areas for drinking water and small hydroelectric power plants.
Safe workplace for women
The focus is on tree species that are missing for use in the village due to deforestation. These include Kapur, Belian, and various species of Meranti. In addition, in the future, greater attention will be paid to endangered species that are not primarily intended for our own use.
The Penan are also supported by the BMF in planting the seedlings. The seedlings are recorded using GPS and subjected to regular monitoring. The aim is to evaluate the success of the project and to regularly improve the methods.
The tree nursery is a reliable job for women in the village.
Two types of plantings have been carried out in the project so far. In the process known as “building savings planting,” the Penan plant a few dozen hardwoods per capita. In the future, their children will use the wood as building material for houses and boats. This work is carried out on their own time and is not reimbursed by BMF, as the trees are later felled themselves.
The second type of planting is targeted ecological renaturation. This aims to achieve a high level of biodiversity and the trees are not intended for timber use.
The Penan have lived in the jungle of Sarawak in Malaysia for centuries.
In addition to the ecological aspect, the project also focuses on the social component. The tree nurseries are considered a safe place to work and therefore particularly benefit women in the villages. This also gives single mothers a new perspective.
Four more tree nurseries established
In addition to the tree nursery in Long Kerong, four others have now been created. The degenerated areas in Sarawak should be revitalized across the board as soon as possible. You can find further information about the project here.
The Bruno Manser Fund is a Swiss non-profit organization committed to protecting the rainforest and the rights of Indigenous peoples. Further insights into the organization can be found here.