How not to identify conservation priorities. An example from Peninsula Malaysia

recent paper published in the academic journal Cogent Environmental Science presents the results of a multi-stakeholder exercise aimed at identifying conservation priorities in Peninsula Malaysia. The paper ranks 35 conservation priorities and according to the authors this list is, “expected to influence the work of policy-makers and others in Peninsula Malaysia and can be used as a model to identify conservation priorities elsewhere”.

The authors explain that,

Inclusiveness and multi-stakeholder participation are important factors in the identification of conservation priorities since they can generate ownership of the issues and potential solutions whilst reducing bias from specific stakeholders

In addition to academics, included among the authors of the paper are representatives of Peninsula Malaysia’s Forestry Department, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, UNDP, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, Sime Darby, Proforest Southeast Asia, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers, Malaysian Nature Society, and WWF Malaysia,

20% of Malaysia in Protected Areas by 2025

The paper notes that Protected Areas cover approximately 13.8% of the total land area of Peninsula Malaysia, and refers to Malaysia’s National Policy on Biological Diversity (2016-2025). In 2014 to 2015, Malaysia revised its National Policy on Biological Diversity. Goal 3 of the Policy is to safeguard all key ecosystems, species and genetic diversity, and one of the targets under this goal states that,

By 2025, at least 20% of terrestrial areas and inland waters, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, are conserved through a representative system of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.

The authors explain that “there is a lack of clear priorities for conservation” in Malaysia, and add that the lack of funds allocated for the environment and related sectors in the 2016 Federal Budget could be interpreted as an example of the low priority given to the environment and biodiversity.

“In this context,” they write,

a prioritisation exercise would be useful to guide conservation policy and practice, optimising the limited available resources, especially if it involves the participation of key stakeholders such as government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics and the private sector.

Indigenous Peoples left out

Obviously, a key “stakeholder” group is missing: Indigenous Peoples. Despite the involvement of various NGOs both in authoring the paper and in the multi-stakeholder process, this doesn’t seem to have bothered the authors too much. They write that,

not all relevant stakeholder groups were invited to participate in this prioritisation exercise. Farmers, indigenous communities and poachers were not involved and their views are likely to differ compared with those of the four groups involved.

Nevertheless, the authors boast of being “able to effectively engage a broad spectrum of stakeholders—including the ‘powerful and influential’ stakeholders”. They describe the process as “open, transparent, inclusive and participatory”. And they conclude that, “This exercise can also be used as a model to identify conservation priorities in other countries.”

Workshops and online surveys

The multi-stakeholder process involved two workshops held at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus and co-hosted by the Malaysian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. The themes were identified in the first workshop. Then an online survey was used to identify priority issues. Then another workshop, and another online survey.

Here’s a diagram of the multi-stakeholder process:

2016-11-30-170717_1680x974_scrot.png

The chances of indigenous peoples having any say through this process, let alone having any influence over decisions that will affect their territories and livelihoods, was approximately zero.

Not surprisingly, issues such as the rights of indigenous peoples and land rights do not appear anywhere in the list of conservation priorities produced through this process. No doubt, there are other issues that are crucially important to indigenous peoples in Peninsula Malaysia, but multi-stakeholder processes such as these are designed to exclude their views.

Far from being “a model to identify conservation priorities in other countries”, this process is an example of how not to identify conservation priorities.

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