Celebrating biodiversity and wise foodways in the Krayan Highlands | WWF
Celebrating biodiversity and wise foodways in the Krayan Highlands

Posted on 28 July 2019

Imagine a landscape of enchanting views where mountains give way to wide valleys and a rich patchwork of rice fields, bamboo stands, fruit trees groves and other mixed gardens merging with the edges of the forest
By: Cristina Eghenter

Imagine also a rich diversity of foods and plants grown, cultivated and harvested, and food products processed according to traditional practices and served as genuine and healthy dishes that reflect the same rich agrobiodiversity. These are the Krayan Highlands in the Heart of Borneo, located in North Kalimantan (Indonesia), along the border with Sarawak and Sabah (Malaysia). The Highlands are the ancestral homeland of the Lundayeh, Lun Bawang, Kelabit dan Sa’Ban Indigenous Peoples. The area is 359,400 Km2 and still quite isolated from the Indonesian side as they can be reached only by small planes. The Krayan Highlands comprise five sub-districts (Kecamatan) and 89 villages for a total population of over 18,000 people. A road connecting the lowlands (Malinau) to the Krayan is being built.

The local communities have practiced wet rice agriculture and cultivated a wide range of plants and trees for centuries. But there is much more than ‘food security’ to the traditional agricultural landscape of the Krayan Highlands. This is also the ‘Luk Kenen Tau’ or what the Lundayeh people call ‘our food.’ Foodways are part of the ethnic identity and tradition that local women have already elevated to a new culinary and cultural experience, full of the earthy flavors of the Highlands.


The cultural and natural heritage of the Highlands and much more was celebrated at the first Village Festival in Binuang, 18-21 July 2019. Thanks to a growing collaboration among the Heads of the five sub-districts in the Krayan, the district government of Nunukan, and FORMADAT, supported by the Lundayeh association and WWF Indonesia, the people of the Krayan Highlands are taking concrete and solid steps to implement the Declaration for organic agriculture (9 March 2016) in the Krayan Highlands. Moreover, the Head of the Nunukan District recently issued a regulation for the protection of the traditional and organic agriculture in the Krayan Highlands.

The festival, with the theme “Buy local buy Krayan - increase the prosperity of people and protect nature in the Krayan Highlands,” was organized to showcase the economic potential of traditional agriculture, handicrafts and ecotourism in the 89 villages in the Krayan. Notwithstanding the bad weather and heavy rainfalls that prevented a larger crowd to participate, there was a good representation of villages from all five sub-districts and many visitors from Indonesia and Malaysia to witness cultural performances and the full display of agricultural products, traditional food and colorful handicrafts. A team of Slow Food International was invited to conduct the assessment for Krayan nominated as presidia in 2018.

Events like this Festival are important to build visibility, strengthen local motivation and capacity to catalyze a collective multi-stakeholder movement across the Krayan Highlands. By focusing on traditional and organic agriculture with premium food commodities that are local, sustainable, fair and healthy, the aim is to preserve ecological balance and local agrobiodiversity, enhance the resilience against climate change and guarantee sustainable development in the Krayan Highlands.

The long journey towards a sustainable and prosperous future for the Krayan Highlands is not over. But with the support of NGOs, international networks like Slow Food and the local government, farmers, men and women, can maintain healthy agricultural practices and increase the market and cultural values of traditional crops. In doing so, they safeguard their land, environment, culture, and economic interest for the future generations. Wise foodways and cultural traditions are at the heart of it.
Cristina Eghenter, Krayan, Heart of Borneo, North Kalimantan
Krayan Highlands in the Heart of Borneo
© WWF-Indonesia/Cristina Eghenter
Pangan Bijak Nusantara, WWF-Indonesia
Pangan Bijak Nusantara
© Pangan Bijak Nusantara
Cristina Eghenter, Krayan Highlands, North Kalimantan, Heart of Borneo
Events like this Festival are important to build visibility, strengthen local motivation and capacity to catalyze a collective multi-stakeholder movement across the Krayan Highlands.
© WWF-Indonesia/Cristina Eghenter
Cristina Eghenter, Krayan, North Kalimantan, Heart of Borneo
This is also the ‘Luk Kenen Tau’ or what the Lundayeh people call ‘our food.’ Foodways are part of the ethnic identity and tradition that local women have already elevated to a new culinary and cultural experience, full of the earthy flavors of the Highlands.
© WWF-Indonesia/Cristina Eghenter