In 2010, 18 Penan communities of the Upper Baram initiated a proposal to establish an area of forest as the Penan Peace Park (PPP) to ‘overcome challenges that they will have to face in the future regarding land tenure and improving livelihood by developing alternative incomes in an environmentally friendly way’. This concept encompasses economic, social and environmental aspects, and demonstrates the local people’s desire to conserve and sustainably manage the forest and resources for all to benefit. The PPP covers an area of some 283,500-ha comprising primary forest, logged-over forest, secondary forest, settlements and farming lands. It is located in the Upper Baram in Sarawak’s Heart of Borneo and between the Transboundary Biodiversity Conservation Area of Pulong Tau National Park (Sarawak) and Kayan Mentarang N.P. (East Kalimantan). Four ethnic communities live inside the PPP, the Penan in 18 villages, Kenyah in six villages, one Kelabit village at Long Peluan, and one Saban village at Long Banga where some Kelabit also live.
The forest in the PPP has been licensed for timber production to five timber companies since the early 1980s. Logging was met with intense protest especially from the Penan communities, who put up blockades to prevent loggers from entering, and prevented a core area of 79,000 ha of primary forest from being logged. Their actions caught the attention of international communities and NGOs.
The PPP proposal is the second community-initiated project in Sarawak to promote conservation and sustainable development, the first one being the Pulong Tau National Park proposed by the Kelabit communities of the Northern Highland in early 1990s. In 2015, the Sarawak Government under the late Chief Minister Tan Sri Haji Adenan Satem agreed to support the PPP proposal if the people were willing to cooperate. For this ITTO project proposal, the name Upper Baram Forest Area (UBFA) is used in place of PPP.
This proposal is developed after consultation with community leaders and NGOs to identify key issues and problems, based on which the outputs and activities are defined. The project’s development objective is to “manage the Upper Baram Forest Area for biodiversity conservation and socio-economic development for the benefits of local communities”, and the specific objective is to “enhance rural transformation through conservation and sustainable development with good governance”. Integrated management plan will be delivered through three outputs to achieve the following, namely, (i) forest resource base sufficiently secured and threats significantly reduced, (ii) integrated land management and utilization by zoning carried out, (iii) multi-stakeholder institutional arrangement for the UBFA development established, and (iv) sustainable economic development models introduced and demonstrated in line with government’s rural transformation programme (RTP).