In Koh Kong province, nestled within the serene Phnom Tob Cheang protected area, resides a thriving community.

More than 300 families find their sustenance through the cultivation of non-timber forest products and ecotourism services. This enchanting haven is but one of the 190 protected areas in the Kingdom that nourish local communities, fostering sustainable livelihoods.

Long Meth, a content resident of Phnom Tob Cheang, spoke warmly of his gratitude.

“The Ministry of Environment and other esteemed organisations have imparted upon us the wisdom of sustainably harvesting non-timber forest products—a notion I find deeply gratifying,” he said.

As a 44-year-old resident of Preah Ang Keo village, Meth supports his family by trading these products, which has allowed him to fund his son’s university education.

Meth elucidated that within the lush expanse of the Phnom Tob Cheang community forests, the harvest of non-timber products, including kuy fruit, bamboo stems, rattan, mushrooms, and medicinal plants, takes place all year round. Yet, when the rainy season dawns, Meth, like many others, turns to rice farming.

He emphasised the importance of the Ministry of Environment’s teachings, where the distinction between “remove” and “pick” became clear—underscoring the significance of sustainable removal and proper management of community forests. These sustainable practices safeguard the long-term availability of these invaluable resources, upon which the local residents rely heavily.

Khuth Pheang, the esteemed head of Phnom Tob Cheang’s community protected area, unveiled the extensive efforts invested by the government.

He said over 3,100 hectares of land have been entrusted to the care of the community. The process involves community patrols and planning meetings, where local authorities and park rangers from the Ministry of Environment actively participate. This cooperative approach has successfully preserved the majesty of towering trees and flourishing fruit forests.

Pheang further disclosed that the sustainable model in place has benefited 327 families residing in Preah Ang Keo and Bak Angrot villages, nestled within or near the community forest. These families are organised into groups based on their roles, encompassing non-timber forest product collection, processing, and ecotourism. The processing group, comprising 38 families, crafts popular bamboo goods, such as incense sticks, straw, and baskets.

Even as the June rains arrive, and the kuy fruit season fades, community members persist in collecting mushrooms. The artistry of bamboo processing gives rise to exquisite products like incense sticks and bamboo baskets. Traditional medicinal plants continue to be gathered, and the honey-harvesting season spans from January to May, ensuring a rich tapestry of natural abundance.

“All 327 families actively contribute to community capacity building and participate in patrolling the community forest,” Pheang proudly affirmed.

This protected area provides not only employment but also an improved quality of life, ensuring that its cherished residents need not seek opportunities elsewhere.

Meas Sokun Vattanak, the deputy director of the General Department of Local Community at the Ministry of Environment, confirmed the presence of 190 such communities throughout the Kingdom as of 2022.

Vattanak emphasised the ministry’s commitment to empowering neighbouring residents to sustainably harvest non-timber forest products and manage natural resources. This unwavering dedication ensures the ongoing protection and sustenance of the Cambodian people.