Forests are intrinsic to the balance of life in Sabah, Malaysia. However, decades of irresponsible logging and clearance for oil palm production have destroyed and fragmented the vital carbon-storing forests. The Sabah Landscapes Programme is a combination of conservation and sustainable development by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) focusing on three areas: Tawau, Tabin and Lower Sugut.
The Programme aims to support the achievement of Sabah’s sustainable development goals by integrating protection of forests, wildlife and rivers, with Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified production of oil palm and restoration of ecological corridors along with riparian reserves. Preferred by Nature has been appointed to conduct evaluations on the Sabah Landscapes Programme and report on the progress.
The Three Pillars of Sabah Landscapes Programme
The three pillars of this approach are Protect, Produce and Restore. Each pillar has its own set of actions and objectives.
The Protect pillar aims to preserve Sabah's remaining forests, rivers and wildlife to reduce ‘leakage’ of producers clearing new areas to avoid complying with certification principles, such as protection of High Conservation Value and High Carbon Stock areas.
The Produce pillar builds on the state government's commitment to producing 100% RSPO-certified palm oil by 2025. With RSPO certification, oil palm growers must follow a set of practices to ensure wildlife is protected and can coexist alongside human and agricultural environments. As such, WWF engages with the palm oil industry to produce group certification. The first step to reaching the international RSPO standards was to get all Sabah producers to be Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certified by 2020.
The Restore Pillar centres on repairing Sabah's degraded ecosystems by restoration and building ecological corridors to connect isolated wildlife populations in forest fragments. It also focuses on reducing the risk of local extinctions from inbreeding, hunting and climate change impacts.
Evaluation of the Sabah Landscapes Programme
Preferred by Nature had carried out a mid-term evaluation for the Sabah Landscapes Programme. This evaluation is the first assessment of a five-year programme. The purpose was to review progress towards the five-year goals, in particular to assess whether the necessary pre-conditions for medium-term success have been put in place. Recommendations for strengthening the programme design and delivery should be made based on this information.
The evaluation was conducted in a transparent and participatory manner to allow the full involvement of the project implementation and design team as well as other key stakeholders and beneficiaries. This evaluation consisted of fieldwork and stakeholder interviews with several parties, including palm oil growers, government officers, programme staff, personnel from the funder organisations and civil society representatives.
Following the mid-term evaluation, it can be concluded that the Sabah Landscapes Programme has made good progress towards all the pre-conditions necessary for further success. Despite a great shift in the local political landscape after the 2018 Malaysian General Election, the programme team has managed to adapt to changes and persevere while pursuing the programme objectives.