Last year, Kay Leak's childhood dream became a reality. Standing on top of Bokor
mountain he found the Khmer saying was true: he could really touch the clouds.
Kay Leak, left, and Kat Savan shake hands as they prepare to plant acacias in Bokor National Park.
Now, he is working with the local NGO Save Cambodia's Wildlife (SCW) to fight the
illegal logging and hunting that is threatening Bokor National Park. By making life
better for the people living there; he hopes to make them realize that what is good
for the wildlife is also good for them.
In a public ceremony on July 23, SCW opened a reforestation program in the village
of Prek Tnot, a community within the park, an hour's drive west of Kampot. In the
shadow of the mountain, representatives from SCW, the Ministry of Environment, provincial
authorities, the park management and the donors joined local villagers to plant the
first trees. The 60,000-tree plantation will consist of a mixture of native trees,
and acacias, which are seen as soil-enriching.
The new trees are much needed as the area has been exposed to years of illegal logging.
This has made the community vulnerable to the storms that torment the area. Houses
are regularly wrecked and crops destroyed. In the dry season, the winds mix fresh
and salt water, making rice farming impossible.
But the new trees will be more than just wind shields. Although formally under the
Ministry of Environment's control, the new plantations will be in a part of the park
that has been set aside as a Community Protected Area. This means that the 861 families
that are part of Prek Tnot community can benefit from the forest, cutting trees for
common use and harvesting mushrooms from the acacia.
The 2,000 hectare Community Protected Area of Prek Tnot is one of three similar zones
that SCW, the Ministry of Environment and the park management have set up in Bokor.
In the future, the plan is to create similar zones around every community in the
Tek Kreung Vutha, under secretary from the Ministry of Environment, emphasized the
need for local help in conservation efforts.
"We can't work alone on this," he said "We need the villagers, we
must make them the friends of the park. In return we will encourage them to take
benefit of the forest."
When speaking to the villagers at the ceremony, Vutha acknowledged their negative
experiences of reforestation in the past. While their help had been welcome when
planting; it was usually someone else who benefited in the end.
"The ceremony today is about making the villagers understand that this time,
it is really their forest," Kay Leak said.
The reforestation is part of a bigger project that SCW has been running in the community
since last June, backed by their main funders, the US NGO Community Forestry International
and the German Development Service, DED. By increasing food security and providing
alternative incomes, SCW hopes to reduce community pressure on the park. The work
has included the introduction of new organic rice-growing methods and a system of
food sharing for rice, vegetables and meat. SCW has also encouraged the community
to develop eco-tourism.
Kat Savan is chief of the local community. He said he is pleased with the plantations
and the Community Protected Area and that he expects the village to be able to make
a good income collecting acacia mushrooms in the future. He also revealed that the
village planned to build a track to a waterfall within the community protected area.
By putting out a sign on the national highway and a donation box by the falls, he
hoped they would be able to make some extra money from tourists.
In a parallel effort, SCW has educated teachers, monks, children and ordinary villagers
on how to protect the environment. They have set up posters around the community
and distributed story books with environment-friendly messages. According to SCW
Director Lim Solinn, the organization has particularly tried to reach the younger
"Children are easier to convince to think in new ways. And they are the future
After hard work by the project team, she is pleased to see this new awareness among
adults as well.
"Before, people used to say that they would protect the forest for our organization
if we helped them in return. Today, this woman came up to me and said that she was
so happy to protect it for their benefit and the generation to come," Solinn