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The Guardians of Babagon: Honouring Our Watershed with Forever Sabah Institute

The Babagon Watershed – and the Babagon Dam that resides within it – supplies clean water to nearly 60% of the wider Kota Kinabalu population. The water is so clean that some say you can plant anything in Babagon soil, and it will grow. 

I was fortunate to be invited to participate in Forever Sabah Institute’s (FSI) Honouring Our Watershed programme, which introduced us to the landscapes and communities within and around the Babagon Watershed. Here, FSI – together with the communities of Kampung Kolosunan, Kampung Babagon Toki, and Kampung Tampasak – brought us closer to the source of our sustenance and survival while also introducing us to the Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) pilot project.

Day 1: Kampung Kolusunan 

The programme spanned three days, with each day dedicated to one of the three communities, first beginning at Kampung Kolusunan. There, we embarked on a tree planting and geo-tagging activity, acquainting ourselves with some of the conservation and citizen science efforts that the communities have been conducting in line with PES.

Later, we ventured along the banks of Kolosunan River, sinking ourselves into the pristine waters and vast richness of the surrounding rainforest. Kampung Kolosunan makes for an incredible eco-tourism destination where visitors can explore hiking trails, chase waterfalls, and catch-and-release fish. Activities like bio-edu tours, nature interpretation tours, and tree planting are also available that will immerse you in the conservation efforts of the Babagon communities. 

Day 2: Kampung Babagon Toki 

We rose early the next morning to hike our way over to the next village, Kampung Babagon Toki. While the hike was intense, after some snacks and refreshments, we were ready to trek down along the river to learn more about the citizen science efforts being carried out.

For generations, the communities have taken responsibility in safeguarding the waters of Babagon, monitoring river quality through water samples and biological indicators like fish and dragonflies. According to The Borneo Post, Babagon is “the most species-rich site in Borneo”, as the citizen science efforts of the communities have led to the documentation of about 100 dragonfly and damselfly species, a known indicator of a healthy water ecosystem. 

Eco Pelancongan Babagon Toki invites visitors to experience Babagon for themselves. As Babagon Toki is higher up than the other two villages, it offers the best views of the dam and watershed. Here, visitors can also venture out onto hiking trails and indulge in the culinary offerings of local traditions.

Once we returned, we were given a brief introduction to the history of the Babagon Watershed, the Babagon Dam, and the communities that reside in and around them. It was here that we learned about Kampung Tampasak, the village we would be visiting the next day, whose original settlement – together with their crops, livestock, and ancestral graves – has now been submerged by the dam.

Day 3: Kampung Tampasak

The next day, we made our way to Kampung Tampasak, taking boats through Babagon River.  Their current settlement is maybe about a tenth of the size of their original village.  What once used to be wide spans of crops have now been reduced to small patches only enough to sustain themselves. 

Residents of the three communities speak of a time when they were able to farm freely, something that has now been restricted due to the presence of the dam.  And despite all that has been endured, the three communities do not even get access to the dam’s water supply themselves, instead having to rely on rainwater collection.

With agriculture constrained, the community has since moved towards eco-tourism, welcoming the public to come visit and learn more about their watershed and their work to protect it. One of the highlights at Tampasak Eco Camp is the hike up Bubuk Hill that takes you to Lubuhan Waterfall. Here, you can have a picnic lunch while dipping your toes in the cool streams. 

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) 

The communities’ socioeconomic development goes in tandem with PES. The PES pilot project aspires towards the continued protection of the Babagon Watershed, as well as the creation of a Babagon Catchment Water Fund that compensates the work of these communities and supports their socioeconomic development. 

Once approved, this water fund will not only serve as acknowledgement of the communities’ territorial rights over their land and watershed but will also enable the creation and sustainability of green jobs in water monitoring, catchment management, and restoration. 

If you would like to learn more about my experience with the Babagon communities, you can refer to FSI's programme coursebook and video playlist that document our entire trip.

Experience the pristine natural beauty of Babagon! 

Kolosunan Eco-Tourism - Facebook

Eco Pelancongan Babagon Toki - Facebook

Tampasak Eco Camp - Facebook

To learn more about PES, Forever Sabah, & Forever Sabah Institute:

Forever Sabah

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Forever Sabah Institute

Website | Facebook | Instagram