Skip to navigation Skip to content

Understanding agricultural sustainability in the highlands of Borneo

Workshop at Bario (c) James Hutton Institute
“Clearly, the traditional rice grown in these villages in not only a food source, but an important part of the cultural identity of the people in the highlands and therefore its vital that its production is preserved”

For generations, rice has been a key crop for the Kelabit people who populate the highlands of Malaysian Borneo – so much so that the slow-growing variety grown in the area shares a name with the region and its main town, Bario. However, the cultivation of rice in the area is under threat due to climate change, soil degradation and emigration, among other factors.

Scientists in Malaysia and the UK, including researchers at the James Hutton Institute, are looking at the potential of sustainable crop diversification in the region to help break the dependence from the rice crop and bring to the fore long-forgotten foods.

A workshop organised by the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, WWF Malaysia and Crops for the Future aimed to link the Bario rice growing community with multidisciplinary expertise and stakeholders to provide a common understanding of what’s needed to achieve agricultural diversification in the area.

Participating on behalf of the James Hutton Institute, Dr Tim George (Ecological Sciences) said: “The trip was a huge success and a fantastic opportunity for me to see some landscapes, ecosystems and agricultural systems I had only read about in books. Also, being exposed to the huge variety of food produced and gathered from the forest, the quality of the food, particularly the fruit and vegetables, was extremely memorable.

“During the workshop, we explored ways in which the region’s rich agricultural and cultural heritage could be made more sustainable and conserved in the face of environmental change, soil degradation and societal challenges.

“Clearly, the traditional rice grown in these villages in not only a food source, but an important part of the cultural identity of the people in the highlands and therefore it is vital that its production is preserved.”

Dr George added that the discussion also included potential alternatives for diversification, such as using the crop diversity more effectively, changing the agronomic systems to be more sustainable, finding new lucrative markets for the products of the highlands and introducing new crops. It is hoped the workshop will lead into further research work.

The event took place in the Bario Highlands from the 24th to the 27th of February 2018, and featured Dr Henny Osbahr (University of Reading) as visiting expert, in addition to Dr George.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/understanding-agricultural-sustainability-highlands-borneo on 23/01/19 09:57:47 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.