A huge area of Ratanakkiri province’s Virachey National Park has been declared a protected area under a European Union-funded plan that government officials say will shift forest communities away from dependence on depleted forest byproducts.
Chhay Samith, head of protected natural areas at the Ministry of Environment, signed off on the $1 million, five-year project yesterday, which will see five forest communities’ land legally protected and some of the 18,395-hectare area turned into an ecotourism site.
Minister of Environment Say Sam Al, who presided over the signing ceremony, said the scheme would also help to preserve indigenous peoples’ ways of life.
“The Virachey National Park is of consequence because it holds all kinds of resources and biodiversity,” he said at the signing. “The establishment of a protected area will encourage the preservation of the indigenous cultures.”
He added that the communities would benefit from the new economy created by the protected area.
“Stop depending on by-products. We want to change the communities that depend on the byproducts to work in eco-tourism, farming or animal feeding to help the community economy so they can stand on their own two feet when the project is finished,” Sam Al said.
Jean-Francois Cautain, EU ambassador to Cambodia, said development was urgently needed to create sustainable livelihoods for the indigenous communities, who have lost much of their way of life due to illegal logging in the area.
“The most important activity is to create development for people; especially, we want to develop natural eco-tourism in a sustainable manner,” he said. “If we can ask them to protect the community’s natural resources by themselves, that is a fantastic thing.”
Nuon Mul, 53, a representative of the five communities, welcomed the project, pointing to the encroachment of illegal logging on their land.
“Furthermore, they [land concessionaires] have bought more than 10 chainsaws for people [in my community] who want to enter the area to log as well,” he said.
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