Malaysian public become eyes and ears of the forest

You live in a very remote area in a forest-rich country. You may not rely on the forests to make a living but they’ve remained as you know them for as long as you remember and – from stories your grandfather told you when you were a child – for a long time before that. One day heavy machinery rattles into your quiet corner of the forest and trees are torn down and hauled away by the truckload. You are concerned about the changes and upset to see the landscape altered dramatically around you. You are told by those who are doing it that they have a right to do so. You are not aware of the laws they refer to, you were not consulted or informed before they turned up, and you have not seen the government forestry official who has thousands of hectares to police for many, many months. How can you, living so far away from where decisions are made, be sure that everything is above board? How can you and your neighbours make sure your voices will be heard if you speak out about the destruction? Transparency International Malaysia has a plan…

On 1 February, TI Malaysia officially launched the ForestWatch website along with an awareness campaign on forest conservation in Malaysia. These tools will enable the Malaysian public to become the eyes and ears of the forest. So, why has TI Malaysia decided to harness geo-spatial mapping technology in this way and how does it work?

Research carried out by the forestry team at TI Malaysia over the past 18 months pin-pointed weak monitoring of forest activities as one of the major corruption risks within the sector. Lack of resources within forestry institutions and little control or oversight of logging activities combined to make forest officers susceptible to influence exerted by powerful logging companies. With preparations for a global initiative to channel significant funds to forest-rich countries to preserve their forests (REDD+) ongoing, ensuring effective monitoring of forest clearance becomes ever more critical.

Throughout 2011, the Forest Governance Integrity (FGI) Programme of Transparency International-Malaysia has been organising capacity building programmes on using geo-spatial technology to enhance public participation in forest management and to promote environmental stewardship. By allowing people to assess forest cover and report irregularities for further investigation, ForestWatch should stimulate concerned citizens to tackle corruption and conserve their forests. For example, if residents have doubts about the legality of logging activities in their area, they can report them via ForestWatch and the case will be assessed by ForestWatch’s expert monitors.

This is a very exciting initiative and we will continue to watch this space to see what impact ForestWatch has on forest governance in Malaysia in the future. We look forward to sharing these experiences with you. If you want to find out more now, please contact the FGI Manager at TI Malaysia, Victor Soosai, or Transparency International’s Forestry Adviser, Manoj Nadkarni.

Do you have other ideas on how people can collaborate to preserve the forests where they live? Leave a comment below.

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