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Govt approves 'community forests'

Govt approves 'community forests'

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The allotment of more than 125,000 hectares of forest land in five provinces aims to improve livelihoods while also supporting greater sustainability and environmental protection efforts

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A man stands in what will become a community forestry site in Svay Rieng. 

THE government has approved 87 forested areas as potential "community forestry sites", in what local development groups have called a leap forward in the pursuit of protected and sustainable forests in the Kingdom.

The sites, which cover over 125,000 hectares and span five provinces, will put communities in charge of forests. This will, supporters say, help better protect the environment while also enabling sustainable timber and firewood production for local residents.  

Ty Sokun, director general at the Forestry Administration in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told the Post Thursday that the community-managed sites would not only mean improved environments but improved living standards for communities.

"It provides people an opportunity to protect their own livelihoods , and [it] reduces poverty as well," he said, referring to the communities' rights to produce commercial forestry products in a sustainable way.

He added that the idea of community forestry was to help both poor communities living off forestry products and to protect the forests from illegal logging by handing over forest management to the communities themselves.

"They live in the area, so they can keep an eye on it much better. They will be allowed to confiscate chainsaws for a short period and call on the local forestry administration to pursue legal action," he said.

Community forestry management was first introduced in Cambodia in the 1990s, when over half of its forest land at one point was licensed to private companies, and forest degradation took place on a regular basis.

 
Power to the people

Once a potential area is approved as a site, it then gets signed over to the community, which happened for the first time in Cambodia last year when communities in Siem Reap were given control of 18 sites.

James Bampton, chief technical adviser for the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre for Asia and the Pacific, an international NGO working with community forests in Kampong Thom province, called the approval an important step towards legalising the sites.

"It basically means that the land is now prioritised for community [use]," he said Wednesday, adding that it would now be legally much more difficult to give the forest areas over to other land use that may be less sustainable.

Chhun Moeun, a member of the community forestry management committee in the Kampong Thom village of Prey Chueng, was happy with the decision.

"It is an important step in the formal recognition of our community forest area, and my villagers are also very happy because we need legal rights," he said, adding that his community had recently had a discussion about demarcation in the forest. "Companies are more likely to respect the boundaries of our community [now]," he said. 

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