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Sarawak forest department acacia plantation project, Malaysia


The State Government of Sarawak has allocated 490,000 hectares of land for the planting of acacia trees. The pulp and paper project has Sarawak Forests Department itself as its project proponent. This project is affecting the lives of Iban (Sea Dayak) indigenous peoples in five longhouses (communities), divided over two customary territories. Besides, the license was issued without their free, prior and informed consent or acknowledgement of their customary rights to their land. Also a forest reserve, the Sujan Forest Reserve, was created without proper consultation of the native communities.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sarawak forest department acacia plantation project, Malaysia
State or province:Sarawak
Location of conflict:Pandan, Bintulu
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Specific commodities:Timber
Project Details and Actors
Project details

This is the biggest acacia plantation project in the country, it includes 290 longhouses, according to the EIA

Project area:490000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:2009
Company names or state enterprises:Grand Perfect Sdn. Bhd from Malaysia - It is believed that Grand Perfect Sdn. Bhd., a consortium of three timber companies, is contracted to work for the Sarawak Forests Departament, on the concessions plantable areas of 150,000 ha.
Relevant government actors:Sarawak Forests Departament
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions
The communities have a map which shows their customary land boundary which was agreed to and signed by all the neighboring longhouses on 21.12.1955. They also have a copy of a letter giving them the authority over their land, from the Crown Prince of Sarawak, Rajah Vyner Brooke (written in Arabic script). This was a 1939 letter. The Sebauh District Office had issued an official memorandum dated 15.09.2009 to the Bintulu Lands and Surveys Deparment acknowledging the existence of the native customary rights to their lands in the Satai, Pandan area prior to 1958 . The area has been certified as our Farming Land Boundary according to the memorandum. However, in June 2009, the Bintulu Lands and Surveys Deparment issued a notice demanding vacant possession of our land in Sungai Satai, Pandan, Bintulu as we were occupying State land. On 17.08.2009, the communities living in Binyo, received an official letter from the Department stating the same. The communities do not accept these absolutely baseless allegations. The Department in its notice stated that they were living without a license on State land and therefore they would be in breach of Sections 209 (1) and (2) of the Sarawak Land Code. But,the communities claim this makes no sense, once they have customary rights over our land. This is recognized in the constitution and in court cases on native customary land rights.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:In a memorandum to the authorities, communities demand that: (a)The Sarawak Forestry Department must urgently withdraw the plantation license (LPF001 / LPF043) for the Reforestation Project by Grand Perfect Sdn Bhd which is within our native customary territory. (b)The Bintulu Lands and Surveys Department must withdraw its notices requiring us to vacate our lands in the Sungai Satai and Sungai Binyo areas. (c)The Forestry Department must remove our customary territory from from the Sujan Forest Reserve. This is because the declaration of the forest reserve has violated our fundamental rights as natives of Sarawak. (d)The Sarawak State Government should provide for special protection for our customary land so that we can continue to practice our culture and tradition as Ibans. This is in line with the Governments ethical responsibility and fiduciary duties towards indigenous peoples. (e)The most important development we need right now is the construction of roads from Bintulu to our longhouses in Sungai Satai, Binyo, Pandan, hospitals, clinics, clean potable water and other amenities. These are some of the infrastructure that should be given to us and not the clearing of customary territories for acacia plantations which would bring about many problems and threaten our lives and livelihoods.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The communities are still fighting to cancel the license conceded for the plantations and guarantee their customary land rights
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

The communities declare they have been informed that their rights have been recognised and stated very clearly by the Federal Court in the case of Madeli Salleh and the Court of Appeal in the case of Sagong Tasi. The formal laws have validly recognised and respected customs in acquiring native customary rights. The Federal Constitution also accords protection to natives and recognises native customary rights.

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Contributor:Winnie Overbeek
Last update08/04/2014
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