A unique homestay place deep in the Kinabatangan jungle

The Heart of Borneo with its protected rainforest provide local communities with the opportunity to be involve in eco-tourism activities.

By Fizah Yusof
Pictures by Ille Tugimin and Oliver Majaham

The Heart of Borneo is a massive biodiversity-rich rainforest treasure house that straddles three contiguous countries, namely, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia on the island of Borneo. The 220,000 km² rainforest is the subject of a conservation agreement initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

A recent International Conference brought representatives and experts to Kota Kinabalu to discuss the progress and future development of the HoB conservation effort.

The conference was not all about not cutting down trees and allowing space for wildlife to roam, however. Human habitation in and around the Heart of Borneo was also considered at the conference where "Shaping and Nurturing Sabah's Forest Together" set the theme for some purpose-oriented human activities in the conservation areas.

Prof Dr. Fadzilah Majid Cooke, University Malaysia Sabah's Lecturer Tourism is of course an industry that can open up the protected rainforest to economic activities that do not harm nature. In the "Breakout Sessions" on Community Development (part of the agenda of the conference), Prof. Dr. Fadzilah Majid Cooke told delegates that one of the examples of equal sharing of benefits from high value conservation is found in Mukim Batu Puteh in Kinabatangan.

Cooperative Tourism Mukim Batu Puteh, Kinabatangan (KOPEL) Berhad has a homestay business centred on various eco-tourism activities in the Lower Kinabatangan region of Sabah.

Set up 15 years ago the cooperative earned RM1.4 million last year from the Miso Walai Homestay, which has a four-hectare niche in the Pin Supu Forest Reserve to support the tourism activities there.

Considered one of the best homestay establishments in Malaysia, Miso Walai (meaning ‘stay together in one house’ in Orang Sungai language) offers visitors an organised community-based cultural tourism experience drawn from stories and folklores of generations of Orang Sungai communities on the Kinabatangan River.

One interesting aspect of Miso Walai is that it has more than 35 households made up of about 400 people speaking some 20 indigenous dialects of the local of “Orang Sungai” communities living and working at the homestay complex.

The complex itself is made up of large traditional rustic homes with some modern conveniences . Traditional local food is served; household activities such as cooking, village sports and farm activities are part of the experience, as are wildlife encounters in the surrounding forests.

Saidal UdinSaidal Udin, a KOPEL representative at the conference told Insight Sabah that Miso Walai specialises in cultural programs for students, families, groups, and people who are interested in what the homestay is doing.

He said at the beginning they faced difficulty in bringing people together to be involved in the program.

“It is not easy to convince people to take part when the project was still new; especially to understand the benefits that they can get through the program,” he said.

To date the cooperative has 260 members from four villages in Batu Puteh, Kinabatangan: Kampung Batu Puteh, Kampung Mengaris, Kampung Perpaduan and Kampung Singgah Mata.

Saidal said the income from the business is used for the community development programmes as well as to pay the cooperative members involved in these programmes.

Apart from that, KOPEL has been appointed by the State Forestry Department as the contractor in the on-going restoration and silviculture treatment of the Pin Supu Forest Reserve. Silverculture involves getting rid of dead trees, branches and vegetations that impede forest regeneration.

The contract with the Forest Department is the main source of income for the local community but, increasingly, they can count on tourism to bring in added revenue.“Miso Walai  provides a village setting not only for visitors to experience amazing wildlife forestry and biodiversity in the area but it also provides an avenue for sustainable livelihood for local communities," Saidal said. – Insight Sabah

Posted on November 9, 2012

Malay 中文 Kadazan
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