KOPEL's Future Ambitions
Over the years the organisation has experienced the pros and cons that follow the accolades that KOPEL has received. On the one hand, celebrating achievements is healthy and necessary for the group. On the other hand, maintaining a realistic perspective on the level of achievement, is critical to keep moving towards goals. Those within the co-operative know that the co-op’s goals are far from being achieved, and those on the front-line can still feel the growing pains of a young organisation that has big ambitions and yearns to deliver on big expectations from the surrounding community.
Not surprisingly, the key to this has always been, and will remain to be, in building the local team. Not just to succeed daily in a challenging local setting, but more so to keep pace with a fast-changing global environment. Unexpected positive outcomes have arisen, over the years, based on KOPEL’s open community engagement. One such outcome, came about when KOPEL reached out to engage with new graduates from within the community. Although tricky to navigate, at first, the existing team and new graduate’s expectations, taking these steps has had a profound impact on the organisation as well as KOPEL’s outlook. Based on this experience, creating expanded and dynamic pathways to encourage the youth of today to help build the sustainable tomorrow we all want to see, will remain a core goal of KOPEL, and stays precisely in-line with the co-ops founding spirit.
Equally fortuitous has been the interest from other communities both near and far to emulate and learn from KOPEL. This led to the establishment of a training hub at KOPEL, for sharing KOPEL’s collective experience and knowhow in Community Based Ecologically Sustainable Tourism (CBEST). Sharing exchanges and exposure trips for communities from afar, have evolved into fully fledged training programs. Annually these programs share the richness of experiences between communities, as well as sad patterns of resource decline, a common trajectory of remote, rural, and marine communities.
Over the years, the conservation products and efforts have also evolved and expanded. For many years KOPEL focused on Forest Habitat Restoration (aka “tree planting”), restoring forest corridors, and strengthening ecological function at the landscape level. Later, this core restoration work expanded to deal with the devastating impacts of the invasive water weed Salvinia Molesta on the aquatic ecosystem of the area. After signing an agreement with the Sabah Forestry Department in 2009 to co-manage the Pin-Supu Forest Reserve, the conservation work grew further, to encompass Sustainable Forest Management, alongside monitoring of impacts, forest health, wildlife diversity, and water quality.
Given that most of KOPEL’s ecotourists and volunteers are students, it was a logical extension of these activities to create programs to build-on KOPEL’s environmental monitoring, moving towards a fully-fledged forest ecology program. This is the direction KOPEL is expanding the conservation work today, and KOPEL continues to seek partners to support and extend the science angles of the conservation work - especially restoration ecology in the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain.
In parallel with these changes, a growing global interest in Palm Oil has meant an exponential interest in the education community to better understand the situation on the ground – for example, where deforestation meets farming. This interest initially led KOPEL to run farm visits and activities to debate the issues, plus the movements towards sustainable farming practice. More recently however, KOPEL has moved to support the sustainable farming movement more directly through certification initiatives and encourage the shift toward regenerative farming.
All in all, the community of Batu Puteh Kinabatangan and the ecotourism cooperative KOPEL have come a long way. As new challenges continue to emerge, KOPEL remains committed to its founding tenets of ecological sustainability, generating income for the community, supporting members, uplifting skills, and restoring local ecosystems. Exciting days await and KOPEL’s doors remain open to like-minded people to come and share their efforts or skills, and for those with a heart to learn or contribute to the places they travel.
This summarises some of the key background, current activities, and future direction of the co-op. If you are keen to learn more about the KOPEL cooperative, please read more about KOPEL and evolving updates on the KOPEL MEMBERS page. IF you are keen to support or contribute, please check-out our CONTRIBUTE page, or read more about our links to interesting travel experiences engaging directly with KOPEL’s projects and products on our Kinabatangan EXPERIENCES page.