Over 16,000 community members living in the natural protected areas of Mondulkiri province have completely shifted away from logging trees in the forests or hunting wildlife to growing crops and raising domesticated animals through the Poverty Alleviation Project set up by state institutions and other stakeholders.
The Poverty Alleviation through Agro-ecological Diversification and Participatory Management of Community Protected Areas is a six-year project set up by World Wide Fund for Nature Cambodia (WWF-Cambodia) and financed by Germany in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment.
At the final project workshop on April 26, WWF Cambodia director Seng Teak said the project had improved the livelihoods of local people living in communities in the natural protected areas, especially in the Srepok and Phnom Prich wildlife sanctuaries.
“Overall, more than 16,000 community members have benefited in that area which accounts for almost 20 per cent of the population of Mondulkiri. And included in that are districts where almost 50 per cent of the population there was able to benefit,” he said.
The project helped them alleviate poverty and reduce the destruction of natural resources through hunting wildlife and clearing forestland by logging.
“Before, they were timber loggers and wildlife hunters. Now they have completely abandoned that way of life and instead they grow cabbage, cauliflower, onions, pepper and rice or engage in animal husbandry and the collection of sustainable forest by-products from natural resources for an increased income,” he said.
He added that the reason Mondulkiri province was chosen as the site of the project was because it was very rich in natural resources and the WWF-Cambodia’s mission was to focus on conserving natural resources by promoting the sustainable use of certain types of them.
“This province still has a lot of forests that have not yet been badly damaged and it’s rich in wildlife habitat and the indigenous peoples living in the area especially depend on conservation or sustainable management of natural resources for their livelihoods, which motivated them to help us reach our goals,” he said.
He added that the project will finish on April 30, 2022, but WWF-Cambodia is planning a new project with the help of the German government to continue with the successes they achieved and they will apply the lessons they have learned to other projects in various provinces.
He said the project had also helped train people in agricultural techniques, formed stronger communities, provided annual budget assistance and helped build the skills and capabilities of the participants who learned how to plan effective forest management and patrols.
“This project helps a lot with just a little financing – $10,000 to $15,000 a year – so that they can implement plans to contribute to the protection of the wildlife sanctuaries which benefits them and facilitates market access. We only ask them not to enter the forests to hunt and to never log timber in the forest to meet our conditions,” Teak said.
Environment ministry secretary of state Rath Virak said the ministry supported the project and welcomed other similar projects related to the conservation of natural resources while also increasing forest community incomes.
He further said that forest conservation would also preserve these areas as eco-tourist attractions, which the government has set as a priority for development and as an important economic pole.
“We are focusing on ecotourism in line with the government’s priorities for improving the living conditions of the people, especially the livelihoods of the communities living in the protected areas. We are seeing good progress,” he said.
German ambassador to Cambodia Christian Berger said the eastern part of Cambodia is one of the largest natural areas left in Southeast Asia and is an area with tremendous biodiversity, including endangered species such as elephants, crocodiles and rare types of birds.
“Teaching our society to use natural resources under sustainable conditions is important work that we all must do for the next generation,” he said.
Yuth Ki, 40, a community member of Koh Nhek district’s Sok San commune, said that under the project his family and other villagers’ livelihoods had improved and they had been educated about the importance and value of the forests around them.
He added that the project had helped reduce poverty for members of the village by setting them up to earn an income through rice farming and raising cattle, chickens, ducks and pigs.
“Before, there were a lot of people who went into the forest and hunted or cut down trees, but now we know better. We understand the importance of community forests and we are benefiting from the community forests in other ways such as collecting mushrooms and vines to sell,” he said.