FIVE hundred hectares of degraded forest land in Takeo province has been signed
over to local villagers' in what is being hailed as a promising way to help
prevent exploitation of Cambodia's forests.
The community forestry
project is designed to take land out of government hands and give villagers the
responsibility of managing and protecting it.
The scheme has been
organized by villagers with the help of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a
North American NGO.
MCC representative Gordon Paterson said he hoped it
would help the government and the people to understand the need for sustainable
"It has started to be a big problem in this country.
The government has little capacity to control their own resources from illegal
companies and corruption."
Under a renewable 60-year contract with the
government, 800 families from 12 communes in Trapeng Kok district will control
and replant 500 hectares of land.
Most of the land, part of a
2000-hectare former forest, bears only small bushes and pieces of grass, after
being heavily damaged by war and wood-cutting.
Some 400,000 new trees
were being planted, paid for by an MCC loan and the villagers' own cash,
The loan had also been used to help establish a rice
exchange to generate profit which would be used to pay for teams of guards to
protect the forest from illegal firewood cutting and cattle
Under a new regulation written by the villagers and approved by
the Department of Forestry, each commune is authorized to patrol and protect
sections of the land.
Cutting firewood in the area was banned for three
years, Paterson said.
Warning notices had been put up at entrances to the
forest. Fines of between 5000-150,000 riels would be levied against people who
took wood, caused fires or allowed cattle to wander into the area and trample
"We have to do this immediately otherwise forests will be
finished in this province soon," he said.
Much of the damage to the
forest had begun in the early 1980s, when the government encouraged the locals
to cut down trees to deprive Khmer Rouge guerrillas of cover. About 2000
hectares of trees were cleared.
In 1990, villagers told MCC staff they
were concerned about the effects of the deforestation - lack of nutrients was
affecting their crop fields - but were still reluctant to stop cutting down
"They told me the forest belonged to the state and if they did not
cut it down, other people would do it for their benefit. Nobody really cared
The new project would put the land's future solely in the
hands of the villagers, who had to decide how to manage it.
five-year plan they had drawn up, fast-growing tress would be planted. Some
would be available for firewood in future years, while others would have become
valuable timber after 50 years.
Takeo is one of the poorest forestry
provinces, with only about 4 per cent of its land covered by
Paterson said MCC last year tried to establish a similar project
in Prey Veng province but had to abandon it when local soldiers occupied and
cleared the forest to build houses for themselves.
The organization was
keen to return to Prey Veng, he said, and also wanted to establish forest
projects in Svay Rieng and Kandal provinces.