Sabah is one of the thirteen states of Malaysia and is located in the northern part of the island of Borneo. Under a mild climate and supported by a diversity of soils, the biodiversity of Sabah is exceptionally high, helping to earn Malaysia its status as one of 17 mega-diversity countries. Among Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia‘s biodiversity in terms of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians is ranked fourth after Indonesia, China and Papua New Guinea. Most of Sabah‘s biodiversity is found in the forest reserves, which occupy about half of its total landmass of 7.34 million hectares. Sabah‘s forest reserves are an integral part of the 20 million hectares of equatorial rainforests demarcated under the ‘Heart of Borneo‘ tri-government (Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam) initiative aiming at conserving and managing the tropical forest biodiversity sustainably.

Over the last 30 years, Sabah has experienced rapid economic growth relying heavily on its forest resources to finance its socio-economic development programmes. There had been an acceleration of forest conversion, particularly outside the forest reserves, as well as forest degradation within the forest reserves associated with over harvesting of resources. These trends have resulted in the progressive loss and degradation of much of the biodiversity in the forest landscape. Protected areas are becoming increasingly isolated, thus decreasing prospects for viability of species.

The 261,264 ha project area represents one such landscape, which forms an important connecting landmass to three renowned protected areas in Sabah; the Maliau Basin Conservation Area (105,443 ha) to the West, the Danum Valley Conservation Areas (43,800 ha) to the East, and the Imbak Canyon Conservation Areas (16,750 ha) to the North. The project landscape constitutes a connecting landscape that is utilized for timber production (69% of total area), industrial tree plantation (16%), rehabilitated forests by enrichment planting (6%) and conservation purposes (6%). This land-use mix is an emerging trend in the forest reserves of Sabah driven by: (i) the comparative disadvantage in crop gestation periods between growing trees and agriculture crops, (ii) low rent capture, and: (iii) incoherent enforcement associated with the lack of expertise in multiple-use forest landscapes. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the above protected areas will become increasingly vulnerabe to fire during prolonged droughts potentially from the surrounding degraded forests.

Assistance provided by UNDP-GEF will strengthen the conservation of the largest area of mostly contiguous forest in Sabah, and one of the most important remaining forest landscapes in the Heart of Borneo.