Providing economic independence to communities in protected areas and empowering local authorities to intervene in cases of natural resource crimes is key to the success and sustainability of development projects.

The approach also aligns with the goals of both those implementing and funding the initiatives, as stated by the Ministry of Environment.

Minister Eang Sophalleth made the remarks during his January 22 meeting with Jean-Baptiste Chevance, programme director of the Archaeological and Development Foundation (ADF), at the ministry’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.

“We appreciate the collaboration and encourage the ADF to remain dedicated to their project, which seeks to bring economic independence to the community,” he said.

“This is a major objective in the circular environmental strategy, integral to the government’s broader Pentagonal Strategy. The framework is centred on ensuring sustainable development and strengthening resilience against climate change,” he added. 

Sophalleth explained that delegating authority to local bodies to tackle natural resource crimes does not signify negligence of offences by the ministry. 

Instead, he said the authority has implemented four important measures to comprehensively address the issues: The first measure is ensuring absolute law enforcement without exceptions, effectively ending the practice of releasing offenders; the second involves cooperation with the capital-provincial administrative joint forces, which are responsible for closely managing natural resources.

The minister added that the third measure entails collaborating with the National Gendarmerie and the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), along with continued cooperation with local authorities; and the fourth focuses on promoting tree planting and reforestation, aiming to surpass the number of felled trees and increase forest cover to 60 per cent by 2050.

Chevance provided an overview of the previous cooperation between the Siem Reap provincial environment department and the ADF, as reported on the ministry’s official social media page. 

He also sought additional support from the authority to enhance the protection and conservation of ecological resources, emphasising the importance of expanding tree replanting efforts for the benefit of local communities.

Hun Sao, head of the Rolak Kang Cheung community within the Khnang Phsa protected area in Kampong Speu province, said on January 23 that he transitioned from a logger to a patroller, actively monitoring and combating illegal tree felling. 

He emphasised that granting economic independence to the people in the region is crucial for forest protection.

“Without the forest, our community would lose out on non-timber forest products. In our mountainous village, the forest is vital for providing water access and mitigating the impacts of floods in the rainy season and droughts in the dry season,” he explained.

Sao added that through the support of the Collaborative Management for Watershed and Ecosystem Service Protection and Rehabilitation in the Cardamom Mountains, Upper Prek Tnaot River Basin project, he has spearheaded several initiatives. 

He said these include supplying water to 96 households in his village and undertaking patrols to prevent deforestation while also exploring ways to increase income.