Understanding the roles non-governmental stakeholders play in preserving protected areas
By Patricia Hului
Malaysia has come a long way since it first established protected areas (PAs) almost 100 years ago.
According to Surin Suksuwan the Regional Director of Proforest Southeast Asia, the first protected area in Malaysia was Chior Wildlife Reserve in Perak designated back in 1903.
“In Sarawak, the first national park to be gazetted was in 1957, the Bako National Park whereas in Sabah was Kinabalu Park in 1964.”
As of December 2014, 473 PAs comprising 3,986,287 hectares or 12.1 per cent of terrestrial land and 609,220 ha or 1.11 per cent of our marine areas in Malaysia were recorded.
What are PAs and what’s the big deal?
Protected areas can be national parks, wilderness areas, community conserved areas, nature reserves and privately owned reserves.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defined protected areas as a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”
There are approximately 200,000 protected areas in the world, covering around 14.6 per cent of the world’s land and around 2.8 per cent of the oceans.
These protected areas are designated to provide drinking water, to store some amount of carbon, keep us healthy, reduce the risks and consequences of extreme events such as flood, enhance food security and provide homes, jobs and livelihoods.
Surin added that the nation target by 2020 was at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water as well as 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas focusing especially on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services.
But managing all of these PAs would be impossible without engaging all of the stakeholders such as the government bodies or policy makers.
One particular stakeholder often misunderstood were non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The role of NGOs
Nagulendran Kangayatkarasu from Faculty of Science, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus explained that NGOs had an essential role to play in supporting protection and conservation of natural resources.
Among the importance of NGOs which Nagulendran stressed were enhancing science policy interface, striking the balance among all stakeholders and creating awareness.
“NGOs play a vital role in connecting the people and government,” he said, explaining that while some NGOs were too forward in voicing out their stand, it was equally important to maintain a relationship with governments.
He also stressed on the importance of NGOs to raise public awareness, citing a survey at the university which found that although Malaysians were aware of the environmental issues, their awareness was not translating into attitudes and practicing change.
He believed that this was where NGOs needed to continue hitting the public on the issues.
“We have to start from the young kids; this is where the NGOs have strong leverage to work on.”
There were other stakeholders as well involving in influencing the management of PAs around the world which included business holders and the communities living around or in some cases, within the PA boundaries themselves.
According to Chairul Salleh, Species Officer of WWF-Indonesia, businesses were allowed to support protective area management in Indonesia.
He added that only through planning, protection, preservation, utilisation and control that the management of PAs could be systematic.
He also pointed out that empowering community including those in the buffer zone areas could play significant role in supporting the effectiveness of PAs management.
Echoing what Nagulendran stated in NGOs’ roles of creating awareness, Chairul shared an example of how WWF in Indonesia reached out to the communities living in the concession areas surrounding the national parks.
“We conducted awareness programmes for the local communities, telling them the penalties of violating the conservation law such as illegal hunting.”
They also worked closely with the local communities to develop more non-timber forest products programmes.
“For now, we have Jaringan Madu Hutan Indonesia, a programme to facilitate forest-honey business to enhance the local economy while conserving the forests.
“Through this programme, local honey collectors would be trained to harvest forest honey and selling them at the same time giving them a reason to conserve the forest as it is to protect the bee habitat.”
There were also MOUs signed between national park management and forest honey collectors allowing the local communities to be more involved in managing these protected areas.
WWF-Indonesia also looks forward to establishing a community-based patrol unit for their PAs in the future, further involving the engagement of the local people.
Surin, Chairul and Nagulendran were the invited speakers during ‘Enhancing Multi-Stakeholder Participation towards Effective Protected Areas Management’ workshop.
Held from Aug 10 till 12 at Dewan Kompleks Islam Sarawak, the workshop was jointly organised by Forest Department Sarawak and WWF-Malaysia.