Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

I woke up early to enjoy a final stroll along the canopy walkway of the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Dawn in a tropical rainforest is a mystical time. As the sun rises, the mist churns among the trees. Woodpeckers and other birds fly in our line of sight, high in the canopy. We are not the earliest risers, as we can already hear the calls of hornbills and Bornean gibbons. A few days in a protected area such as Danum Valley highlights the importance of setting aside some nature reserves where the impact of people is limited to conservation and recreation.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Buayan, Sabah, Malaysia

After a torrential downpour last evening, I woke to a few stars in the early morning sky. As the sun rose, there was mist over the mountain forests and patches of blue between the layered cirrus clouds. With the roar of the Papar River below and bird song in the air, it felt like the earth was thriving like it should, respiring, transpiring and renewing itself with new life. A fitting way to start the day when the United States has a new President to take us on a new journey. As an American, I feel that I can breathe again. I sense a new beginning filled with tenuous energy and hope shared by so many people around the world.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Buayan, Sabah, Malaysia

The landscapes around Buayan have a detailed story to tell about local peoples’ management of the environment. One of the most striking features is the patchiness of vegetation cover. Although ardent conservationists might regret the loss of forest, a more humanistic viewing reveals a mosaic of fields of rice ripening in the intermittent sunshine, great shafts of bamboo emerging from clumps of tropical trees and small clearings that are evidence of the previous years’ farming. The overall diversity of these landscapes, from field to forest, is higher than in the protected areas where access for local people is denied. An understanding of these anthropogenic landscapes – ones created by people – has led to a new trend in conservation that embraces cultural diversity and local ecological practices.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Buayan, Sabah, Malaysia

Grey literature – the reports produced by governmental agencies, academic institutions and other groups but not available through commercial publishers – lets me keep my finger on the pulse of the diverse organizations that are working on community-based conservation and other pressing issues. Taking advantage of early nights and a handy flashlight, I am reading The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation: The Natural but Often Forgotten Partners. This World Bank report – like so much grey literature – flies below the radar of the popular press and scientific papers, and is certainly consulted by too few people. Written by Claudia Sobrevilla, a World Bank Senior Biodiversity Specialist from Colombia, the report provides a good if somewhat repetitive account of some international policies on indigenous people and the natural environment.

The World Bank’s commitment to supporting free, prior and informed consultation with indigenous peoples before engaging in development projects is enshrined in its Operational Policies and Bank Procedures 4.10, which are fully reproduced in annex 2 of the report. Claudia is honest about the poor implementation of these policies: only 18.3% of the Bank’s biodiversity portfolio has been dedicated to indigenous peoples programs, and only a third of these projects are classified as ‘full engagement’. With a total price tag of US$6.18 billion over twenty years (from 1988 to 2008), the biodiversity conservation efforts of the World Bank are in need of a major reorientation.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

I left for Buayan, the Dusun community in Borneo where we have been working since 2004, under a threatening sky. After a quick drive to Donggongon with James Wong, GDF-Southeast Asia’s field coordinator, we waited for our fellow travellers to assemble for the bumpy 1 hour drive along logging roads and then 4 hour walk in mountainous terrain. I crossed paths with Jannie Lasimbang, who has resettled in Sabah after several years in Thailand, where she was coordinating the Asia Indigenous Peoples Programme (AIPP). This and other indigenous organisations are playing a leading role in making sure that communities are involved in negotiating and implementing international policy on indigenous peoples’ livelihoods, rights and self-determination.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Marrakech, Morocco

An end of the year conversation with my daughter convinced me to finally join the league of bloggers. She encouraged me to write a journal that would relate my experiences as I travel to develop GDF’s field projects. She imagined, she later told me, that I would take notes in a leather-bound notebook carried on my journeys. The practical difficulties precluded this, as leather doesn’t fare too well in the wet tropics, and I am out of practice holding a pen. I quickly transformed the idea into a blog where I could describe my experiences and record some reflections about what the Global Diversity Foundation is trying to achieve. In appropriate Web2 form, I could add photos from the field, link to the institutions and resources that inspire me, and provide access to some of the community video clips that we are producing.