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New Straits Times: Eco-camp to help locals earn a living

Joniston Bangkuai
New Straits Times (Malaysia):
KINABATANGAN, Tues. – Young residents of Kampung Batu Puteh here can look forward to a sustained income through an eco-camp project.
The eco-camp, located within the rich flora and fauna valley of the Lower Kinabatangan, will provide local and foreign tourists a place to stay in the forest. Its focus is on nature education, ecotourism and research.
Construction on the Tungog Rainforest Eco-Camp (TREC) began last year and is expected to be completed soon.
It is funded by Shell Malaysia and implemented in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia, Raleigh International and a co-operative set up by the Batu Puteh youths, Koperasi Pelancongan (Kopel).
“It is like a dream come true for the youths involved in the project,” Kopel chairman Mohd Hashim Abdul Hamid said.
Nestled next to an ox-bow lake, the eco-camp, designed to accommodate up to 30 guests at any one time, will be managed by Kopel as a source of income for its members.
It forms part of the wider sustainable tourism project initiated by WWF-Malaysia, known as “Model Ecologically Sustainable Community Tourism” (Mescot).
Mescot has seen the Batu Puteh community getting involved in ecotourism activities such as homestays, cottage industries and boat and guide services since 1997.
Hashim, the project's prime mover, sees a brighter future for the many unemployed youths of Batu Puteh once the camp and its ancillary infrastructures are completed.
Shell Malaysia gave Kopel a seed grant of RM220,000 when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the project in February 2002 with WWF-Malaysia and Raleigh International, a UK-based charity.
Following months of planning and securing the necessary approvals from the relevant authorities, construction finally began some two months ago.
Designed jointly by local youths, the eco-camp was planned to minimise its effect on the surrounding forests through all aspects of its design, construction and operation.
No trees are being felled for the construction of the eco-camp; the buildings are scattered amid the existing vegetation onsite. Other basic eco-design principles include minimising energy and water usage.
No chemicals are used on site and all waste is removed, while construction materials are natural products sourced from the villages.
Expected to be a hit among local students and foreign eco-tourists, the eco-camp makes full use of the rich forest environment to enhance the visitors' experience.
Hashim said the eco-camp is designed as a platform to test the latest eco-technology such as solar power, composting toilets and alternative energy supplies.
Shell Malaysia chairman Datuk Jon Chadwick said the project was in harmony with the company's core value of helping people build a better world for themselves on a sustainable basis.
“We are further motivated because of the obvious benefits the project can bring to the conservation of biodiversity and wildlife of the Kinabatangan flood plain,” Chadwick said.
WWF-Malaysia chairman Tengku Zainal Adlin said the eco-camp would enhance the attractiveness of ecotourism in the Lower Kinabatangan area.
What inspired Shell Malaysia, WWF-Malaysia and Raleigh International to support the effort was the whole-hearted involvement of the Batu Puteh community throughout the Mescot initiative.
“The eco-camp is not only an avenue for employment but is tied closely to the ongoing community based ecotourism activities of the area,” said Raleigh International country director for Malaysia Rory Hall.
The project is showing the way for multi-stakeholder approaches on conservation and economic development.

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