Advancing community rights in Malaysia’s biodiversity and climate change policies

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  • Country: Malaysia
  • Organisation: Sahabat Alam Malaysia - Friends of the Earth
  • Support area: Conserving biological diversity
  • IKI funding: 59,932 euros
  • Project start: 01/01/2022
  • Project end: 30/06/2024
  • Website:

Although indigenous customary land rights are recognised in Malaysia, the state often limits them as a form of user rights and unilaterally determines their boundaries, without the issuance of documents. Thus, logging and land development operations often encroach upon such territories, which include forests. Meanwhile, fisher communities are threatened by unsustainable fishing practices and land reclamation, which destroy coastal and marine ecosystems. The IKI Small Grants project develops policy and legal reform proposals that integrate the protection of community rights into the protection of these ecosystems, which can counteract the violations of both community and environmental rights, in support of national biodiversity and climate change policies. The project targets ten indigenous and six fisher communities and conducts information campaigns to encourage local and national decision-makers to support these proposed reforms on community rights and natural resource management.


Currently, there are no comprehensive legislative provisions that integrate the protection of community rights and ecosystems in Malaysia. In Sarawak, including in Baram, without strong land tenure security, indigenous territories and forests continue to be threatened by logging and plantation development. In Baram, official data has recorded a significant increase in flooding incidence in the last 20 years. The large conversion of forests into monoculture plantations during the same period has been blamed for this, while climate change may also be impacting rainfall distribution patterns. In Peninsular Malaysia, the livelihoods of fisher communities in Penang, Kedah, Perak, Malacca and Johor are confronted by unsustainable fishing practices, aquaculture and coastal reclamation projects, as their roles in managing coastal and marine ecosystems remain largely unrecognised. The project therefore strongly advocates for integrated policy and legislative reforms that advance community rights in the protection of forest, coastal and marine ecosystems amongst state and local political actors.


The project will support ten indigenous communities in Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia and six fishing communities in Peninsular Malaysia to protect their community conserved areas and mobilise against destructive projects and ecosystems damage. Their perspectives, built from traditional knowledge in natural resource management and grassroots mobilisation, will be essential in developing the proposed policy and law reforms that integrate the protection of community rights with that on the protection of our forest, coastal and marine ecosystems. Advocacy to promote these reforms will be conducted amongst the targets of this project, namely, political and state actors. They comprise executive authorities and lawmakers from both the federal and state levels.


The main goal of the project is for state and political actors to have considered integrated policy and legislative reforms proposals that advance community perspectives in the protection of forest, coastal and marine ecosystems, in support of the national policies on biodiversity, climate change and physical planning.

Currently, the systemic failure of existing policies and laws on local and indigenous peoples and the protection of forest, coastal and marine ecosystems is largely contributed by the separation of community rights from ecosystem protection, as well as other factors such as poor governance transparency and weak consultative processes.

Local and indigenous communities have developed vast technical and ethical knowledge on how to sustainably manage and protect forest, coastal and marine ecosystems. Hence, the improvement in their land tenure security and the enhanced recognition of their effective roles in the management of natural resources will greatly contribute towards the protection of our ecosystems.

The project intervention lies in the development and advocacy of integrated policy and law reforms which incorporate community perspectives, in which the protection of community rights is central to the protection of ecosystems. These perspectives would have been built upon community knowledge and experience in natural resource protection as well as their mobilisation and direct actions, and would be further discussed in strategy meetings, which the project will support.

Subsequently, the proposed reforms will be disseminated during advocacy activities for the awareness of executive authorities and lawmakers, at both the state and federal levels. We believe the proposed reforms will help improve the technical capacity and knowledge of state and political actors on the centrality of community rights in the protection of ecosystems. As such, local authorities will also be actively involved in knowledge-building processes.

The support for the proposed reforms from state and political actors would contribute in the long-term towards their eventual implementation, leading the way towards increased protection of the rights of indigenous and fisher communities, as well as the protection of forest, coastal and marine ecosystems, as well as our marine fishery resources in the future, attaining the goals of our national policies on biodiversity and climate change.

The project will assist communities to conduct community forestry management and agroecology and support their mobilisation and direct actions to protect their territories and ecosystems; conduct strategy meetings with civil society and community organisations; develop and publish advocacy materials that will incorporate these community perspectives; and conduct direct advocacy with executive authorities and lawmakers at both the state and federal levels.


IKI Small Grants supports SAM in its organisational capacity development with:

  • Training to enhance writing skills for staff, to help improve the quality of our popular advocacy materials, mass media engagements and research-driven publications and reports.
  • Training on website management and enhancement, cyber security and similar concerns.
  • Training on the development of effective content for website, social media and audio-visual products.
  • Training on topic-specific technical subjects.


Sahabat Alam Malaysia – Friends’ of the Earth Malaysia (SAM), is an independent non-profit national organisation established in 1977 in Malaysia under its Societies Act 1966.  Their objective is to ensure that our development choices and management of natural resources are sustainable and ecologically sound, guided by the principles of environmental justice. It is their understanding, that the protection of our natural resources can only be effectively attained when there is equity in society, where the rights of indigenous peoples, farmers, fisherfolk and local communities to natural resources are respected and gender justice prevails.