Posted on 22 September 2015
A community trans-border initiative to protect and develop sustainably their homeland divided between Indonesia and Malaysia in the Highlands of Borneo has been selected as one of the winners of the Equator Prize 2015.
By: Cristina Eghenter
FORMADAT, (Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi Borneo or the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands of Borneo, Indonesia/Malaysia), a community trans-border initiative to protect and develop sustainably their homeland divided between Indonesia and Malaysia in the Highlands of Borneo has been selected as one of the winners of the Equator Prize 2015. The Equator Prize is awarded to 20 outstanding local and indigenous initiatives that are advancing innovative solutions for people, nature and resilient communities. The winners will be supported to participate in a series of policy dialogues and special events at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP21) in Paris, France in December 2015.
This trans-border alliance came together in 2004 to build on the shared historical and cultural bonds among the Lundayeh/Lun Bawang, Kelabit, and Sa'ban indigenous peoples living in the Highlands of the Heart of Borneo. FORMADAT aims to integrate conservation and development, and ensure that the development of the Highlands respects the environmental and social characteristics of the area and its communities. Preserving the rich natural and cultural diversity of the Highlands is important for lasting wellbeing of the people and the environment.
The traditional landscape of the highlands in the Heart of Borneo is a patchwork of agricultural fields, ancient forests, rivers and streams, and cultural sites. The area is a traditionally farmed catchment area on the island of Borneo. Farmers have developed a traditional wet rice farming system which is unique in the interior of Borneo where most farmers use rotational agriculture. The group has prioritized farming native rice seeds like adan rice, and preserve many fruit forest areas rich in local varieties. The great agrobiodiversity of the area is also the result of traditional wisdom and practices of the local communities. In March 2015, the people in Krayan Selatan organized the first Tropical Forest Fruit Festival to celebrate this natural bounty and start nurseries of local fruit trees. Their efforts have also caught the attention of networks like Slow Food International. A tele-center operated with solar energy was opened in 2011 and is managed by FORMADAT. Together with E-Bario and E-Ba’ Kelalan in Malaysia, this initiative supports education and information exchange , and supports the local ecotourism.
Working deep in the heart of Borneo, FORMADAT has recognized not only the importance of cross-border collaborations but also partnerships, national and international networking to sustain and strengthen its initiative. In 2014, FORMADAT celebrated its 10th anniversary. During this journey, WWF Indonesia, and later WWF Malaysia, have been partners and donors of several initiatives. WWF and FORMADAT have a formal MoU now. “What the leaders of FORMADAT started to envisage and discuss back in September 2003 showed a powerful long-term vision of sustainability and security for their homeland and communities” says Cristina Eghenter of WWF Indonesia who has followed many of FORMADAT steps and initiatives over the years, “There is much to learn from them in terms of realizing local models for sustainable and fair development that builds on strong cultural heritage.”
The governments of Malaysia and Indonesia, at local and national levels, have also started to pay attention and engage FORMADAT in the Three-Country Heart of Borneo Initiative. And more ethnic associations and other organizations have been supporting the communities of the Highlands over the years and worked with FORMADAT.
The sustainable and resilient future of the communities in the Highlands of the Heart of Borneo is rooted in their common past and shared across the international border. In the words of the Head of FORMADAT Indonesia, Lewi G Paru: “The FORMADAT that we established in 2004 is a forum in our own backyard to serve the interests of all of us who live along the border of the Borneo Highlands. This is a good forum: it unites us in one fellowship, one thought, one journey, to look after our homeland, our rights. This place we call patar dita' Borneo is the only homeland we the Lundayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Sa'ben have. Before, we went our separate way, now we have an association to bring us together in one thought, one strength, to defend our land, our environment, our culture, our economic interest.