For the past two months, approximately 800 Orang Asli Indigenous Peoples have maintained blockades at several sites in Gua Musang district, Kelantan State, Malaysia in defense of the environment and their customary rights over land.
“We want to block any activity that would destroy the environment”, said the Chairperson of the Kelantan Orang Asli Village Network, Mustafa Along, in a video interview conducted by the environmental organization Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM, Friends of the Earth Malaysia), which SAM shared with Real World Radio. Mustafa explained that Indigenous Peoples depend on forests and when these ecosystems are destroyed, the lives of the communities are directly impacted. “We will continue to blockade as long as the (Kelantan) State government remains silent and does not give a decision”, stated Mustafa.
SAM issued a press release on March 1st where they warn that several business activities on the Orang Asli’s lands are affecting their watersheds, settlements, cemeteries and forest produce, among other things.
The protest measure by the Indigenous Peoples aims to stop forest exploitation, mining and large-scale monoculture plantations in the lands that belong to communities through their customary rights. But they also aim to raise awareness about their struggle and the impacts of forest destruction around the world, not only indigenous communities.
“We are facing many problems now as a result of the forests being destroyed, including global warming. This is not just an Orang Asli issue, it’s a problem that affects the rest of the world too. We hope our little effort would raise awareness on this issue and everyone would join our struggle”, added Mustafa in the interview with SAM.
The environmental organization denounces in its press release that Kelantan authorities have been approving logging activities, monoculture plantation projects, land-use conversion to agriculture and mining in the Permanent Reserved Forests (PRF) (a Malaysian category for forests), without respecting the customary rights of Indigenous Peoples.
SAM states that land-use conversion in PRFs does not only destroy the original forest cover (natural forests) through the clear-felling harvesting method, affecting forest biodiversity, but it also affects the rights and lives of the Orang Asli in particular.
“Sahabat Alam Malaysia is disappointed with the Kelantan state authorities which did not consider the recommendations that SAM and the Orang Asli community had submitted in the past”, states the press release issued by the Malaysian organization, a member of environmental federation Friends of the Earth International, present in 75 countries.
The press release also makes reference to several moments where SAM, and in other cases a representative of the Orang Asli people, have submitted their feedback or suggestions to the state government aiming to stop the development of monoculture plantations or mining projects in PRFs, but without any luck. On the contrary, the Kelantan state government “is still pursuing the implementation of large-scale monoculture plantation projects in the PRF area”, reads the statement.
Nevertheless, SAM insists on their request to State authorities to stop the conversion of these forests into mining or monoculture plantation areas. They also demand the State to not allow logging in forested areas above 1,000 meters and that they ensure that the indigenous customary rights over land are respected.
“SAM is concerned that if the above-mentioned recommendations are not implemented, more serious environmental impacts such as floods, sedimentation and pollution of rivers, loss of biodiversity, flora and wildlife will occur. The lives and livelihoods of these indigenous people who depend on natural resources will be further marginalized”, states SAM in the press release.
Meanwhile, Mustafa demanded the Kelantan government to stop logging, mining activities and monoculture plantations in their lands. “We hope that the State government would find other sources of income instead of logging”, he stated in the interview with SAM. “We hope that the public would support us in defending our remaining forests. It would be a difficult task if we (Orang Asli) are the only ones in this struggle to defend our forests. We feel that we need as much help as possible from those who can help us”, added the Chairperson of the Kelantan Orang Asli Village Network.
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