Why is the Bornean forest important?


In terms of plant and animal species, the Bornean rainforests

are the richest terrestrial ecosystem in the world. It is said that

they are around 130 million years old, the oldest on the planet.

By sequestrating carbon, they are acting as an important Carbon

sink and contribute to reducing the concentration of Carbon in the

atmosphere. They also serve to significantly buffer flooding, to

maintain water quality and to sustain local communities and

indigenous people. People in Borneo value the rainforest for its

spiritual value as well as for the services rendered by these

ecosystems [1].


Deforestation in Borneo: the extent of the problem


People arrived in Borneo around 40,000 years ago and for a long time their impact on the Bornean forests [2] was very limited. Historically, deforestation in Borneo was minimal due to infertile soils, an unfavourable climate, and the presence of disease. However the first signs of deforestation clearly appeared about 1,500 years ago. Deforestation started to accelerate with industrialization and between 1980 - 2000, more round wood was harvested from Borneo than from Africa and Amazon combined [2]. Borneo has lost forest cover twice as fast as the rest of the world’s humid tropical forests. Lowland forests (ie below 500 m asl) and mangroves have suffered the most from this aggressive deforestation [2]. Today most of these habitats have been converted to other types of land-uses.


Our recent analysis showed that between 1973 and 2010, a total area of 168 493 km2 (or 16.8 million ha) of rainforest in Borneo has been converted to other types of land uses2. This is four times the size of Switzerland!  Rather than slowing down, deforestation is accelerating and more than 8 million hectares were lost between 2000 and 2010, accounting for 12 percent of its 2000 cover. [3]

                                                                       (Map, source:
























What Borneo Futures recent studies show

Maps produced by Borneo Futures [2]

Borneo Futures has undertaken an island-wide analysis of forest clearance and logging for the entire island of Borneo since the 1970s. For the first time, clear, transparent and precise figure about deforestation rates and extent in Borneo are made available. What do the data show?


In 1973, Borneo was covered with 75.7% of forest; in 2010 this percentage was down to 52.8%. During the same period, a total of 271,820 km of logging roads were created in Borneo: this is 21 times the earth circumference (or ¾ distance Earth-Moon).


What is the highest deforestation rate during the period 1973-2010 [2]


Sabah: 39.5%

Kalimantan: 30.7%

Sarawak: 23.1%


What is the highest proportion of intact forest in Borneo (or primary forest) in 2010 [2]


Brunei: 56.9%

Kalimantan: 32.6%

Sabah: 19.1%

Sarawak: 14.6%



Reasons for Deforestation


The leading reason for deforestation in Borneo is largely subsistence and agro-industrial agriculture. Subsistence agriculture mostly involves slash-and-burn practices from local communities. It requires low technology and is usually done on a rotation (or shifting) basis. Most crops will include rice, maize, vegetables. Agro-industrial crops include rubber and other industrial tree plantations (about 10 % of the entire Borneo island). In 2010, 65,000 km2 (twice the size of Belgium) was planted with oil palm and 10,537 km2 under industrial tree plantations (mostly rubber trees or acacias for the pulp and paper industry).


Much of the remaining forests will be logged and converted under the present forest-use designations. 42% of intact forests fall under “production forests” and will be logged as the area of forest that falls under exploitation is greater than protected forests. A further 16% of these intact forests will be converted. In this case, Eventually, if all these plans are materialised, intact forest coverage of Borneo will only be 11%.


Other causes for deforestation are also linked to human development and include mining (for coal or for gold and other minerals), infrastructure development (roads, human settlements, etc.) and fires. Fires can cause extensive damages during El Nino-related draught events



Ways Forward


  • Logging is not necessarily bad for the forest!

Indeed, recent studies show that orang-utans [4] as well as many other species [5] can survive in slightly logged forests or in forest exploited under sustainable practices. Recent analysis also shows that in Kalimantan, the deforestation rates are lower in commercial forest exploited for timber than in protected forests, showing the possible value of timber exploitation for forest conservation when sustainable practices were implemented seriously [6].


Reduced impact logging practices as promoted under FSC certification are a way to minimize negative impacts on biodiversity and to retain natural forest cover. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international not for-profit, multi-stakeholder organization established in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. It’s main tools for achieving this are standard setting, certification and labeling of forest products.


Reforestation Exercise: a very expensive and lengthy process


A sylviculture treatment is the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health and quality of the forests to promote faster regeneration after disturbance. Often trees are tended by people to cut and remove creepers, climbers and other pioneer plants that hamper tree growth (usually Dipterocarps and other timber species). In some places, natural regeneration is unable to take place because the soil is too compacted as a result of logging machinery and the seeds are unable to germinate. In other places, the seed bank has been completely destroyed or weeds and other pests destroy the seedlings before they can grow. In these circumstances, seeds and seedlings are planted and taken care of by people in reforestation attempts. However reforestation is a very lengthy and expensive exercise.

  • Better land use planning: key for better future

Deforestation is not the best approach to achieve the development targets aimed at for Borneo. Indeed, combining integrated economic and environmental planning approach to evaluate alternative futures for the island show that it is possible to simultaneously retain approximately 50% of its land as forests, protect adequate habitat for the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis), and achieve an opportunity cost saving of over US$43 billion [7].


You can make a difference 


Report deforestation when you see it:


Get involved and support reforestation initiatives
Buy only FSC certified tropical timber:





A few links with interesting facts and views about tropical deforestation. The list below is far from being exhaustive!



[1] Meijaard, E., N. K. Abram, J. A. Wells, A.-S. Pellier, M. Ancrenaz, D. L. A. Gaveau, R. K. Runting, and K. Mengersen. 2013. People’s perceptions on the importance of forests on Borneo. PLoS ONE, 8 (9): e73008.


[2[ Gaveau, D.L.A., S. Sloan, E. Molidena, H. Yaen, D. Sheil, N.K. Abram, M. Ancrenaz, R. Nasi, M. Quinones, N. Wielaard, and E. Meijaard. 2014. Four decades of forest persistence, loss and logging on Borneo. Plos One 9 (7): e 101654.


[3] Jukka Miettinen, Chenghua Shi and Soo Chin Liew. Deforestation rates in insular Southeast Asia between 2000 and 2010. Global Change Biology (2011) 17, 2261–2270, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02398.x


[4] Ancrenaz M., Ambu L., Sunjoto I., Ahmad E., Manokaran K., et al. 2010 Recent Surveys in the Forests of Ulu Segama Malua, Sabah, Malaysia, Show That Orang-utans (P. p. morio) Can Be Maintained in Slightly Logged Forests. PLoS ONE, 5(7): e11510. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011510.


[5] Meijaard E, Sheil D, Nasi DR, Augeri D, Rosenbaum B, et al. (2005) Life After Logging: Reconciling Wildlife Conservation and Production Forestry in Indonesian Borneo. Jakarta, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research. 345 p.


[6] Gaveau, D. L. A., M. Kshatriya, D. Sheil, S. Sloan, S. Wich, M. Ancrenaz, M. Hansen, M. Broich, E. Molidena, A. Wijaya, M. R. Guariguata, P. Pacheco, P. Potapov, S. Turubanova, and E. Meijaard. 2013. Reconciling forest conservation and logging in Indonesian Borneo. PLoS ONE, 8 (8): e69887.


[7] Runting, R.K., E. Meijaard, N.K. Abram, J.A. Wells, D.L.A. Gaveau, M. Ancrenaz, H.P. Possingham, S.A. Wich, F. Ardiansyah, M.T. Gumal, L.N. Ambu and K.A. Wilson. 2015. Alternative futures for Borneo show the value of integrating economic and conservation targets across borders. Nature Communications, 6:6819. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7819. 2014