Indigenous people in Malaysian Borneo face continual threats of displacement resulting from deforestation and climate change, logging, plantations, mega-dam projects, mining and other extractive industries. These expanding industries threaten indigenous lives, customary institutions, existing conservation-supportive resource management schemes, and cultural heritage. The indigenous people of Borneo are not only guardians of forests that sequester vast stores of carbon and biodiversity; they also hold critical knowledge that allows them to live sustainably within the bounds of their forests and connected natural resources. Indigenous leaders in Malaysian Borneo believe that only solutions rooted in adat (cultural beliefs and heritage) and respectful of traditional innovations and knowledge will sustain Borneo’s forests and water over the long-term.
As an environmentally low-impact technology that celebrates rather than degrades indigenous value systems, community-based micro-hydropower provides a strong foundation for sustainable community development. The availability of these systems allows consistent access to electricity and mechanical energy for activities like milling. This allows relieving economic pressures on rural village residents, especially women. Since micro-hydro systems require healthy watersheds to optimize their power output, watershed conservation and management plans are integrated features of every project. The tangible benefits resulting from micro-hydro power systems incentivize environmental stewardship.Green Empowerment has been working in the region with local partner Tonibung since 2001 to support indigenous villages in preserving their culture and natural heritage, while also increasing their quality of life through access to renewable energy and clean water. Our work is rooted in community organizing and advocating for indigenous rights through the development of local micro-hydro electrical systems and watershed conservation work. With Tonibung, we support the development of local social business through the Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology (CREATE). CREATE serves as a manufacturing plant for turbines and also as a training center for future community technicians. A grassroots base in Malaysia’s indigenous movement is further supported by our participation in policy conversations at the national level to push for clean development solutions.