SIPITANG, Sabah: After a year-long preparation, the Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge 2, has finally kicked off in the highlands of Long Pa’ Sia’, participated by an enthusiastic group of adventurous people.
About 20 participants will walk in the footsteps of the early settlers of the highlands, who used to travel on foot between Long Pa’ Sia’ in Sabah to Long Semadoh, and some will continue on to Ba’ Kelalan and Bario in Sarawak, and Long Bawan in North Kalimantan, through challenging terrains and cool weather, yet beautiful mountainous landscape in the Bornean rainforest. The event starts from July 20 to 29.
The eco-challengers will walk past historical sites of the people living in the highlands of Sabah, Sarawak and North Kalimantan as well as lush paddy fields that produce the fragrant Adan rice and Bario rice. The routes are once used as migratory paths since thousands years ago by the highlanders.
This event is organized by Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi (FORMADAT), a transboundary, grassroots initiative that aims at increasing awareness and understanding of the highland communities in the Heart of Borneo (HoB).
Among others, the event is supported by Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Sarawak, Forest Department Sarawak, Natural Resources and Environment Board Sarawak, Sarawak Museum Department, Sarawak Energy Berhad, Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Kuching, Roger Harris Associations, WWF-Malaysia and Project WHEE.
The eco challenge is not a competition but an ecotourism event that relives history, culture and stewardship of nature in the highlands. It aims at promoting the importance of conservation in the highlands and preserving its history, nature and culture. So the concept of treading lightly, take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, is core to the organiser and participants.
Besides appreciating the beauty of the highlands has to offer, participants will do their part for Mother Nature and set off to tree and bamboo planting by the river with community in Long Semadoh. The activity is part of Long Semadoh’s river restoration and conservation programme initiated by the villagers with WWF-Malaysia’s technical support. The trees and bamboos planted will help to reduce riverbanks erosion which is causing farmers to lose their paddy fields.
FORMADAT Malaysia leader Penghulu George Sigar, in his welcoming remarks in Long Pa’ Sia’ on Thursday night (July 20), hopes that the eco challenge would grow into a signature event in the Heart of Borneo’s highlands that emphasizes on ecotourism aspects and at the same time brings benefits to the local people.
“These benefits include increased publicity on the highlands as one of the preferred ecotourism destinations in Sarawak, Sabah and North Kalimantan,” he said.
“The number of participants is kept small to reduce the potential impacts upon the environment in the highlands which are sensitive to changes, he added.
“We also hope that the eco challenge will provide sustainable alternative socio-economic activity for the locals and increase the appreciation to maintain the natural environment for its inherent value among our people and also visitors,” he said.
WWF-Malaysia Sarawak Programme Leader Dr Jason Hon said as a conservation minded organization that supports the event, one of the key attributes of this challenge is to allow participants to connect to the nature, the forests, the rivers, the wildlife, the geological features, to be able to feel and experience the wonders of our tropical rainforest up close.
“Historically, these trails were used by the highland communities to commute between villages, who walked for days, and only brought along very little ration.
“The forests provide them the resources during the journey, where they obtained food, water and shelter. In the next few days, you will get the opportunity to relive that experience,” he added.
Dr Hon hoped that participants would complete the trails feeling enlightened, to see how human can live in harmony with the nature.
“We need to maintain our sustainable way of living to ensure that these resources remain intact for many generations after,” he said.
George also announced that the third Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge will take place from July 18 to 27, 2019.
“Keep an eye for the updates on the third series of Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge in our Facebook page,” he added.
FORMADAT is a trans-boundary, grassroots initiative that aims to increase awareness and understanding of the communities of the highlands, maintain cultural traditions, build local capacity, and encourage sustainable development in the Heart of Borneo without risking the degradation of the quality of the social and natural environment.