Southeast Asia is a region rich in biocultural diversity. Home to more than 600 million people, the contrast between the hectic pace of rapidly growing cities and quaint rural villages spread across a vast countryside is remarkable. Kinabalu Park (1964) and Crocker Range Park (1984) were established in order to ensure the conservation of Sabah’s unique store of biodiversity. However, faced with the encroachment of global market trends, commercial enterprise and a steadily decreasing resource base, the livelihoods of the indigenous communities living on the periphery of these parks are increasingly at risk.
The Malaysian state of Sabah is situated at the northern tip of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Along its west coast, sprawling coastal plains and peat swamp forests converge with the lowland, hill dipterocarp and montane forests of the Crocker Range, which culminates at the rocky peak of Mount Kinabalu (4,095m) in the north. Both Kinabalu and the Crocker Range are renowned centers of biodiversity, famous for their spectacular flora and high endemism. Sabah has an astounding wealth of ethnic and linguistic diversity, with a range of ethnic groups and sub-groups distributed along the coastline, inland plains and hilly ranges. The Crocker Range, particularly areas around Kinabalu Park and Crocker Range Park, is home to many indigenous Kadazan, Dusun and Murut communities. For generations and pre-dating the establishment of any protected areas in Sabah, these communities have been living in, trading throughout, and managing these areas. Today, they form part of the rural population in Sabah, primarily subsistence farming communities that cultivate the land, fish and hunt, and harvest forest resources to fulfil their daily needs.
Kinabalu Park (1964) and Crocker Range Park (1984) were established in order to ensure the conservation of Sabah’s unique store of biodiversity. However, faced with the encroachment of global market trends, commercial enterprise and a steadily decreasing resource base, the livelihoods of the indigenous communities living on the periphery of these parks are increasingly at risk.
Over the course of 8 years since 2004, our programme in Southeast Asia explored ways in which protected areas and indigenous communities could converge to support both biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods.
The approaches employed in the region comprised of (1) working with Dusun communities to carry out various applied research initiatives that investigate patterns of local resource use, valuation of landscapes, transmission of indigenous ecological knowledge, and the impact of subsistence strategies on areas adjacent to, or inside, parks; (2) building local capacity to carry out these investigations through an interactive training programme that brings government officials, non-government representatives, professionals, researchers, students and community members together in a dialogue of joint learning and participatory field methods workshops; (3) supporting long-term, community-based conservation initiatives where local communities and partner agencies carry out projects that link biological and cultural aspects of their surrounding environments; and (4) supporting community-led advocacy initiatives to protect their lands and resources from destructive industrial development.