Located immediately inland from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah State, the 3,001 hectare Babagon Catchment is part of the wider Moyog Catchment in the Crocker Range on the West Coast of Sabah. The catchment comprises three Indigenous Dusun villages (Tampasak, Babagon Toki and Kolosunan). These Native Customary Right (NCR) territories are de facto Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) that include some gazetted village land, some Native Title land held by members of ancestral communities, some land alienated by the state for conservation purposes, and some lands owned legally or illegally by non-natives and non-locals. The area is mostly steep well forested lands, some of which are enriched with durian and other indigenous and cultivar fruit trees, with some small patches of cultivated rubber. There are limited paddy lowlands with diverse gardening around village sites. The rivers are healthy and now back under the customary “tagal” management systems maintaining high fish biomass and keeping the rivers free from pollution.
The key issue is that this watershed contains the Babagon Dam that currently supplies water to approximately 57% of the Greater Kinabalu population (though not to the three resident communities partnering with us in this project). The construction of Babagon Dam (completed in 1997) displaced the village of Kg Tampasak flooding their ancestral graves, valley orchards and padi lands, and destroying an abundance of culture and traditional heritage. Tampasak’s peoples have now been resettled outside their traditional territory to lands below the dam (see map); in which process they have suffered untellable hardships, many with long-term consequences.
The Babagon Dam
The importance of this dam has led the government to restrict socio-economic activities and livelihoods of these three Dusun communities to ensure the quality of water flowing from the Crocker Range. This means that the government has sought to take over from ancestral communities the landscape management and stewardship of the traditional territories (marked with red boundaries on the map above). Moreover, the cultural relationships between the three neighboring villages have been fading because the dam at the center flooded the old routes up and down the valleys. For Tampasak, farming has meant renting lands in other distant villages like Kolopis in the lowlands, where infrastructural development has, in turn, led to increasing floods. Resettlement was implemented in a compulsory fashion and promised compensation and support was irregular and inadequate. Confidence and trust of the communities in government agencies were deeply impacted by these events as were relationships with political leaders. This tended to reduce further government attention to basic services, gazettement of village lands and so forth.
Combating Challenges and Building Resilience: Implementing the PES revenue deployment process.
To attend to these complex histories and issues, and after a four-month scoping exercise and one year PES Readiness Phase of consultation and training, Forever Sabah agreed to facilitate a multi-year process between communities, government and private stakeholders to design PES arrangements with project funding from Yayasan Hasanah, and supplementary small grants from the Roughley Charitable Trust and The Shared Earth Foundation.
This next phase, which was completed in November 2020, transformed community capacity and significantly shifted relationships between government and the communities. It ultimately successfully secured endorsement from the NRO-Led Committee for a set of institutional mechanisms that would create a Babagon Catchment Water Fund, upon which the communities would be strongly represented as Trustees alongside government and other stakeholders, collecting and paying out to the resident communities monies derived from a variety of potential funding streams and sources. When approved by the cabinet, with the associated recognition of the communities’ territorial rights, these flows can enable permanent establishment of many green jobs (in such areas as water monitoring, catchment management and restoration).
The project currently understands the institutional relationships and financial flows as illustrated below:
Yellow lines/colors indicate money flowing
Red lines/colors indicate proposed action/institutions
This “heart” graphic represents that what we seek to build is to mirror the circle of clean water coming out of the forests of the indigenous territories of the Babagon Catchment with a corresponding circle of reverse flow in funding from those who take advantage of that environmental service.
Putting all this in place is the focus of the next several years of the PES project.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been deeply challenging to the communities of Babagon Catchment, around the intersection of livelihoods under the Movement Control Order (MCO) SOPs, with the historical legacy of the dam construction and associated marginalization (for example displacement from their paddy lands means increased their vulnerability to COVID-19 related food shocks). Overall, these communities depend on traveling to formal and informal jobs in town and on selling produce and forest crafts at nearby tamu markets around Kota Kinabalu city, markets now limited for public health reasons, and this cripples their sources of livelihood. Meanwhile aspects of their ICCA/territorial management approach did enhance their livelihood resilience, especially the substantial fish stocks they had available in their “tagal” managed rivers, which were used to feed people when they lost access to external sources of protein. During the lock-down phases of the 2020 COVID pandemic, the project was able to source and efficiently distribute relief food and other assistance to catchment residents, but this is not a long-term solution.
Due to decreased mobility under COVID the internet now plays a huge role in maintaining social networks and connecting to the outside world for every social and economic purpose. It has also become essential for community project activities and governance. Meanwhile when schools closed children depended on internet access for education. However, internet network connection is very difficult in the mountainous Babagon Catchment, as it is only available in a few spots, typically in high land above the villages, where there are no facilities to sit and work on-line. This has made it hard for the communities to adapt to changing means of communication.
Key Platforms and Successes
Mirani Momogompi Tadon Waig (MMTW)
Mirani Momogompi Tadon Waig (MMTW) comprising well-trained community members who are able to monitor water quality using both biochemical and biological indicators (dragonflies and fish species), have established tree nurseries and are ready to implement environmental restoration projects.