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Podcast: What do two giant land deals mean for the future of Southeast Asia’s forests?

  • On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we take a look at two stories from Southeast Asia that highlight the importance of land rights and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for Indigenous and local communities.
  • We speak with Cynthia Ong, founder and Chief Executive Facilitator of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), an NGO based in the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, who tells us about the fallout from a story broken by Mongabay about a carbon deal signed by government officials in Sabah without consulting local communities. The deal covers more than 2 million hectares or 4.9 million acres of the state’s forests for at least the next 100 years.
  • Our second guest is Gerry Flynn, a Mongabay contributor based in Cambodia who has been covering a recent government decree that made 127,000 hectares or nearly 314,000 acres of protected areas available for sale or rent. Flynn tells us why there are fears that it will amount to nothing more than a land grab by powerful interests, though the decree is ostensibly intended to make land titles available to landless families.

Today we take a look at two stories that Mongabay has been reporting out of Southeast Asia. Both stories involve the land rights of local and Indigenous communities in or near protected areas and highlight why consultation of local communities is crucial to building an equitable, sustainable future.

Listen here:

Our first guest is Cynthia Ong, founder and Chief Executive Facilitator of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), an NGO based in the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. Ong tells us about the fallout from a story broken by Mongabay staff writer John Cannon about a deal signed by government officials in Sabah without any consultation with local communities that gives foreign companies a share of the profits from selling carbon offsets and other natural capital from more than 2 million hectares or 4.9 million acres of the state’s forests for at least the next 100 years. Ong updates us on what has been revealed publicly about this secretive agreement and explains why she wrote a commentary for Mongabay asking whether colonial history is repeating itself with this Sabah forest carbon deal.

We also speak with Gerry Flynn, a Mongabay contributor based in Cambodia who has been covering a recent government decree that made 127,000 hectares or nearly 314,000 acres of protected areas available to be rented or sold in a province that includes Cambodia’s highly biodiverse Cardamom Mountains. Flynn tells us that while the decree is ostensibly intended to make land titles available to landless families, many of whom were dispossessed of their land by the creation of the protected areas in the first place, there are fears that it will amount to nothing more than a land grab by powerful interests. According to Flynn, subsequent investigative reporting he’s done has found these fears are not unfounded.

Further reading:

”Is colonial history repeating itself with Sabah forest carbon deal? (commentary)” (1 December 2021)

”Details emerge around closed-door carbon deal in Malaysian Borneo” (24 November 2021)

”Bornean communities locked into 2-million-hectare carbon deal they don’t know about” (7 October 2021)

”The great Koh Kong land rush: Areas stripped of protection by Cambodian gov’t being bought up” (7 October 2021)

”Carving up the Cardamoms: Conservationists fear massive land grab in Cambodia” (1 July 2021)

Stung Proat, Cardamom Mountains. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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