Opportunities and challenges of transboundary protected area in South East Asia: Case study of Heart of Borneo


“With one conservation vision and with a view to promote people’s welfare, we will cooperate in ensuring the effective management of forest resources and conservation of a network of protected areas, productive forests, and other sustainable land uses within an area which the three respective countries will designate as the “Heart of Borneo (HoB)” (HoB declaration)


In 2007, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam declared and committedto conserve andsustainablymanage the Heart of Borneo (HoB), thelargest transboundary tropical forest expanse remaining in Southeast Asia that coversmorethan22millionhectaresof equatorialrainforestsacrossthreecountries ontheislandofBorneo. Alongside to save the forests and biodiversity of Borneo from destruction and degradation, HoB is also aimed to improve the welfare of local society include of indigenous people. The area of HoB represents 30 percent of the land area of Borneo island, with the proportion of each country is 56.6 percent in Indonesia, 41.8 percent in Malaysia and 1.6 percent in Brunei Darussalam (1).

As one of the largest rainforests area in Asia, HoB is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. HoB is home to the endemic species such as orangutan, pygmy elephant, clouded leopard, and rhino. Since 2007, about 123 new species have been discovered within HoB include of 67 plants, 29 invertebrates, 17 fish, 5 frogs, 3 snakes, 2 lizards and a new species of bird (2).  The area also acts as “water tower” for the entire island which is as source of 14 of 20 main river systems on Borneo Island.  HoB is also home to indigenous community from at least 50 Dayak tribes with various languages and cultures. Therefore, ecosystem services provide by forests, water, and biodiversity play important roles for the existence and health of the communities.

Area of HoB in the Borneo island (source: WWF)

With the important value of HoB, it is an opportunity as well as a challenge for the three governments to conserve and sustainably manage the area from destruction and degradation. Recently, a large part of the low land areas outside HoB have been converted to other land-use types. While the economy of Borneo island is mainly depend on timber (production forest), plantation (oil palm) and mining (coal mining) that unfortunately been slow to adopt sustainable management standards for their operations(3). In Indonesia¸ HoB area is dominated by production forest (39 percent), conservation and protected forest (31 percent) and other land-use (30 percent). Yet these land base operations (concession area) such as production forest, oil palm and mining are indicated overlaping each other due to the lack of coordination among the sectors mandated to issue the permit for the concession area (4).

To achieve the objective of HoB, each government has developed strategies and policies that described in the national strategic plan of action (5).  The government of Indonesia has designated its HoB territory as a National Strategic Area under government regulation (PP 26 year 2008) and even formalizing Kalimantan’s spatial plan makes specific mention of the designated HoB National Strategic Area (Presidential Regulation No. 3 year 2012). In Malaysia, federal government allocations for Sabah and Sarawak for HoB implementation through the 10th Malaysia Plan have grown significantly with Sabah’s HoB program focuses on implementing a policy review to enhance institutional arrangements and Sarawak focuses on strengthening protected area management and bioprospecting efforts.  Meanwhile, Brunei Darussalam has elaborated 36 specific interventions including greatly increasing the area of its protected forests, ceasing to log natural forests entirely and strengthening institutional and human capacities to support conservation and sustainable development in HoB.

Forest and biodiversity in HoB area (source: WWF)

Unfortunately, HoB is lack of management institutional. There is no established institutional structure yet to manage and coordinate the program. The highest forum is only Trilateral Meeting, an annual meeting to exchange idea or information (4). This is a big challenge of three governments to decide the institutional structure in the near future. The institutional structure is expected as an umbrella to coordinate the activities of each country as well as link together of stakeholders who involve either direct or indirectly with natural resources and its issues within the HoB area. Some of the stakeholders that heavily dependent on the resources are easily manage under the institutional structure of HoB such as indigenous community, small scale and local businesses, or private companies who have concession licenses. Even, other stakeholders that have significant power and voices to influence other stakeholders or change dramatically the status of natural resources of the area are also possible to manage under this structure.

Another challenge that three governments also faced is fund raising for achieving the program in related to sustainable resources, protected area management effectiveness, socio-economic welfare of local people on the border areas, ecotourism development and capacity building. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as an NGO that force behind the achievement of the declaration of HoB, propose the concept of developing a green economy where governments, companies and communities value ecosystems for the services they provide. This is a broader program to incorporate stakeholders from across a variety of sectors and include involvements aimed equally at sustainable livelihood growth alongside more traditional land and wildlife conservation efforts (5).



1.         Heart of Borneo National Working Group, National Strategis Plan of Action Heart of Borneo 2009-2014.  (Heart of Borneo National Working Group, Jakarta, 2009).

2.         C. Thompson, Borneo’s New World: Newly Discovered Species in the Heart of Borneo.  (WWF Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, 2010).

3.         C. Greenwood, “Building a Green Economy in the Heart of Borneo: South-South Cooperation between Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia”  (WWF Heart of Borneo Initiative, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, 2012).

4.         Heart of Borneo National Working Group, National Strategis Plan of Action Heart of Borneo 2015-2019.  (Heart of Borneo National Working Group, Jakarta, 2014).

5.         A. van Paddenburg, A. M. Bassi, E. Buter, C. E. Cosslett, A. Dean, Heart of Borneo: Investing in Nature for a Green Economy.  (WWF HoB Global Initiative, Jakarta, 2012).


About the Author: Akhmad Rizali is a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Plant Pests and Diseases, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Brawijaya, Indonesia (http://rizali.staff.ub.ac.id).  He is also a staff scientist at PEKA Indonesia Foundation, a Conservation NGO in Indonesia (www.peka-indonesia.org).  He is currently one of the ASEAN-US Science and Technology Fellow 2015 focusing on biodiversity. He received his bachelor in Plant Protection (2000) and master in Entomology (2006), both from Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) in Indonesia, and doctoral degree (2011) from the University of Goettingen in Germany. His main interests include of entomology, agroecology, biogeography, and landscape ecology.  He has several experiences of international research collaboration such as UNESCO (2014) about mapping of the existing conditions in Nino Konis Santana National Park, Timor-Leste; FAO (2013) about application of protocol to detect and assess pollination deficits in crops: a case study on cucumber in Indonesia; and University of Goettingen, Germany (2012) about ecological services of transformed ecosystem in Jambi.