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Uncertainty, Mutualism and Capacity Development – The Case of the Malaysian National Conservation Strategy (part one)

June 19, 2014

The overview of the Malaysian National Conservation Strategy (M-NCS) sets out 18 lessons learned by field scientists involved in initiating and undertaking the M-NCS as a civil society initiative for the World Wildlife Fund (Malaysia) (WWF-M) in response to the World Conservation Strategy (WCS) and in collaboration with State decision and policy-makers[1]. When WWF-M approached my colleague and I as academics at the University of Malaya to consider the feasibility of a M-NCS, we were aware of the imperfect ecological knowledge about Malaysia’s biodiversity-rich heritage and life-supporting ecosystems for assessing the risks and uncertainties generated by socio-economic development impacts; and hence opted for the need for iterative consultations and mutual understanding to gather the best available knowledge for formulating an integrated strategic conservation plan. We agreed to a pro bono undertaking as long as a stipend was available for graduate students to conduct the work under supervision, expenses incurred were met, WWF-M would manage the finances, and we had recourse to reputable external consultations. Our objective was to take a least-cost approach in reconciling Malaysia’s mega-biodiversity heritage (a natural public good) with its socio-economic desire to modernize and develop on a sustainable basis (a synthetic public good), in view of prevailing knowledge deficiencies and uncertainties.

This enterprise was enjoyable in providing me the opportunity to learn beyond my own specialism in behavioural and evolutionary ecology, especially about socio-economic development. We had estimated two years to review all the States so as to provide each a prescriptive view of nature and natural resources conservation priorities. However, it took us 12 years to cover most States since each State inherited an unique challenge to reconcile between the different proposals for socio-economic development on potential sectoral, multi-sectoral and sub-regional development plans generously provided by bilateral overseas development assistance, and posed us a challenge of using sustainable resource use and nature conservation as a criteria for reconciling between competing development priorities, so that the State could take ownership of our recommendations. This challenge involved a bottom-up process of mutual learning by engaging specialists (academics, professional experts) on nature, natural resources, ecology and biodiversity, and exploring development alternatives with decision and policy-makers (civil servants, and legislators) initially at State (provincial) levels to build consensus for their practical action. Eventually, and after 12 years working at the State level, this ‘private’ initiative was taken over, managed and completed by the Federal government for mainstreaming into its 5-year plans in time for the Rio Summit.


Part-two to follow.


Written by Jose I. dos R. Furtado


[1] / Furtado, J.I. dos R., D.R. Wells, L. Chan, Y.-L. Mah, and G.W.H. Davison, 2013. A Malaysian national conservation strategy based on State conservation strategies. Raffles Bull. Zool., Suppl. 29: 13-31

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