Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Biodiversity at our doorstep: Brunei's commitment to the Heart of Borneo

By Azaraimy HH

Complementing the BIMP-EAGA vision of turning the sub-regional area into a single-tourism corridor dubbed 'Equator Asia', Brunei has proven its unbending commitment to the Heart of Borneo (HoB) concept.

Currently there exists a proposal for the establishment of a 'Trans-boundary Eco-Tourism' within HoB member countries, which will benefit the tourism sectors of the three nations directly involved - Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia - with the Sultanate having committed a large portion of its undisturbed forests to the project. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is also assisting in the project.

Deputy Director of Forestry Department at the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR), Mahmud Haji Yussof, in his capacity as Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Brunei HoB Centre said, "I believe Brunei offers a strong position in eco-tourism potential because it is a country within the BIMP-EAGA sub-region where tourists do not have to travel far to experience rich biodiversity. In Brunei biodiversity is at the doorstep".

The Bulletin interviewed Mahmud Haji Yussof during a forestry briefing presented to a 17-member Chinese delegation that was led by Minister of State Forestry Administration of the People's Republic of China, Jia Zhibang, in which the delegation was informed of Brunei's current forestry status by the Director of Forestry Department, Haji Saidin bin Salleh. Also present at the briefing were the Permanent Secretary at the MIPR, Dayang Hajah Normah Suria Hayati binti PJDSMDSU (Dr) Hj Awang Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri, and other senior level officers.

During the briefing Mahmud Haji Yussof highlighted the importance of the HoB project, which has the potential to prevent hundreds or maybe even thousands of species from facing extinction. Successful rainforest conservation requires joint efforts as forests are inter-connected, he added.

He mentioned there are several projects being undertaken as part of the HoB initiative that require the involvement of the relevant authorities across all the nations involved, such as the continuous study of fauna and flora within protected areas.

He also linked the importance of the overall conservation effort to potential economic benefits, particularly the tourism industry, which will ultimately benefit the Sultanate.

"The forest is not there simply for its timber or other by-products. Today we can apply leverage on the forest itself to grow eco-tourism", which he labeled as being a very promising industry for Brunei. The forests can basically "generate money for us by itself and also benefit the local people as eco-tourism is about the local people", he added.

Environmental and forest protection remains a strong issue in Brunei, where the issue is being strongly supported by the political leadership as he referred to His Majesty the Sultan's 2007 Titah in Sydney, which touched on the HoB initiative.

It is important to note however that external financial support is crucial for the initiative's success and that currently Brunei Shell, HSBC and SCB are private sector businesses that are supporting the initiative.

In conclusion he maintained that the committee will continue to try their best to secure sponsorship from other countries as it also contributes to the global environmental conservation effort as well.

Under a trilateral meeting, a project such as trans-border eco-tourism is being proposed, which will benefit member countries. "What else can we say but Brunei is a city inside a forest," he stated.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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