The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

When the Forest is depleted: Resource Conservation in Border Regions

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 31, 2014

Transboundary cooperation in West Kalimantan and Sarawak has materialized by involving national governments, donor agencies and NGOs. Transboundary cooperation in Borneo Island has existed, taking forms on bilateral agreement between Indonesia and Malaysia. The cooperation scheme has involved not only the two countries but also NGOs such as the WWF and ITTO as a donor agency. The cooperation was institutionalized as the Heart of Borneo initiative. Despite all the efforts, the progress has been slow and the impact is also limited.

Proponents of transborder natural resource governance initiatives believe that the cooperation is not only important for the purposes of natural conservation but also in contributing to conflict resolution and borderland development. However, managing resources in border regions are faced with multiple challenges. Contesting interests among parties, institutional barriers, and social-economic conditions are some factors that could hinder the progress.

Although there is an increasing level of local awareness on resource conservation, local governments still perceive conservation efforts as a way of restricting development initiatives.[1] Local governments believe that the land is better used for purposes other than conservation, such as plantations, which can contribute to the local government’s revenue. Limited institutional capacity and contestation between local and central government are some other potential factors that hamper the conservation efforts.

Despite all the challenges, the prospects of resource conservation in border areas is favourable. The development of ecotourism to promote economic and social developments is promising. Kapuas Hulu district, for instance, initiated an ecotourism roadmap and tourism board as one of the strategies bridging conservation and development’s need (generating local income). The opening of the Badau border in 2012 is expected to not only strengthen ecotourism in the region but also improve the cooperation between Indonesia and Malaysia. [2]

International initiatives continue to be developed in the area. The institutionalization of cooperation   such as Heart of Borneo (HoB), BIMP EAGA and Sosek Malindo are some of the initiatives which are trying to merge conservation with the development efforts. Those institutions will provide support and make the collective efforts and governance become more viable.

Empirical data on the challenges and opportunities in border areas are not only imperative to strengthen any conservation work but also can be potentially used to identify the limit of governing transborder area. This research clarifies that to make the conservation work in the border more effective, attention need to be paid on local political, economic and institutional dynamic, as well as on how different interests compete and negotiate.


[1] In several areas in West Kalimantan, World Wild Fund (WWF) initiates watershed forum which involves forest restoration, capacity building and sustainable of resource use.

[2] Due to the opening of the border, human and capital mobility is increasing. This open a chance to increase interaction and economic cooperation between the two countries. See here for more information.

This blog post has been written by Ali Muhyidin.  Ali is a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo, associate lecturer at University of Indonesia and Binus University, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.


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