Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Forest given to local management

Forest given to local management

Forest given to local management

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

forest management.

"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,

Paterson said.

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

grazing.

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

seedlings.

"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

trees.

"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

about it."

The new project would put the land's future solely in the

hands of the villagers, who had to decide how to manage it.

Under a

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

forest.

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.

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