￼A mega conservation initiative to protect the untouched and pristine rainforest of Borneo Island has brought three countries – Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia – together in their efforts towards realising sustainable development.
Borneo Island’s tropical rainforest is the world’s oldest tropical rainforest ecosystem, with its evolution estimated to have started 130 million years ago.
The trilateral Heart of Borneo (HoB) Initiative was signed in 2005 to pave the way for sharing responsibility of protecting the vanishing ecosystem. It focuses on the remaining band of forest in the centre of the island, straddling the mountains that run from Mount Kinabalu in the North East, down to the Schwaner Range in the South West, covering approximately 220,000 square kilometres of equatorial rainforest, which is almost a third of the island.
Initiated by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the HoB Initiative offers manifold advantages including potential new discoveries that would be beneficial not only for the whole Borneo Island but also the international community. The research and development information from this biological corridor will be the scientific component of ecotourism activities in Borneo within the HoB ecotourism package that will also enhance the people’s appreciation for nature.
Brunei has played a vital role in the tri-nation initiative whereby a proposed 61 per cent or 355,277.6 hectares of its land is under the HoB Initiative. The 10th Heart of Borneo trilateral meeting hosted by Brunei in 2016 enabled the participating countries to further strengthen the role of HoB Initiative in contributing to the national agenda of economic growth by translating the common forest conservation vision into economic relevance.
According to Brunei’s Heart of Borneo Centre, the economic importance of HoB Initiative has been further elaborated and re-emphasised by the country’s leadership. This will provide more opportunities for the stakeholders concerned to grab and spur economic activities that really promote the protection of pristine nature and iconic rich biodiversity within the territorial assets of the HoB Initiative.
The HoB strategy is meant to support Brunei’s national agenda of economic development and at the same time aimed towards the achievement of sustainable global development goals whereby biodiversity and nature play vital roles in theeconomic wellbeing of a country, and therefore, will serve as industrial assets for future bio-industry development, particularly in Brunei.
In addition, the HoB Initiative also enables non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to institutionally develop their efforts in reducing the burden of the government to administer and manage the natural resources. The operational cost of the government will be very much minimised with the active involvement of NGOs.
Meanwhile under the initiative, research on various economic potentials of biodiversity and other related areas will be taken up in partnership consisting of foreign and local research institutions.
Based on the discussion carried out in the trilateral meeting, Brunei has widened collaborative opportunities and enhanced the interest of potential NGOs and funding agencies based in Asean and Europe. And as a result, the scientific component of the HoB Initiative is fully utilised, benefiting the scientist community and students from higher learning institutions.
To promote the idea of conservation of rainforest among the young generation, the HoB Centre, Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism, offers internship programmes to an increasing number of students, to educate and expose them to real scientific activities undertaken by the centre, which include short-term programmes for visiting students and lecturers from eminent regional universities.
The HoB Corridor Initiative was proposed by Brunei as the first trilateral effort to ensure the connectivity of the most ancient forest ecosystems in Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan to serve the core richest biodiversity area in the Borneo Island.
The biological strip can provide Bornean citizens a living through herbal medicines worth billions of dollars, apart from serving as a food supermarket for the world. A green economy approach to achieving the HoB initiative’s vision of conservation and sustainable development will lead to more inclusive economic planning, management and accounting within the economies of Brunei, Kalimantan, Sabah and Sarawak.
With the development of the proposed biodiversity corridor, the existing trans- boundary collaboration can be upscaled to a trilateral collaboration between Pulong Tau National Park in Sarawak, Kayan Mentarang National Park in Indonesia, Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary in Sarawak, and Betung Kerihun National Park in Indonesia.
This could potentially become the world’s longest connected landscape linking protected areas through sustainable land uses.
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