The Ministry of Environment has assisted with the establishment of a total of 182 communities consisting of over 50,000 families throughout natural protected areas in 16 provinces in just the first six months of this year, according to ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra.
Pheaktra said the purpose of establishing these communities was to prevent forest crimes and conserve natural resources in those areas.
He said the total area occupied by these communities amounted to 309.463ha. The environment ministry plans to provide these communities with assistance getting started in various legal occupations such as farming, animal husbandry and eco-tourism.
“We will be providing a variety of animal breeds they can raise – including cattle, goats, pigs, chickens and ducks – and also providing seeds for growing fruits and help with promoting sustainable eco-tourism,” he said.
According to Pheaktra, the ministry is also urging people in those areas to focus their efforts on the special products that their region is best known for either locally or nationally, and in turn the ministry will search out new markets for them.
“The point of all of it is to give them the resources to make a clean break from their previous occupations as loggers and poachers through sustainable and green professions in eco-tourism or simply farming vegetables, all of which has the desired outcome of building the local economy,” he said.
He noted that the ministry supported the principle of community-involvement in protection and conservation of forest lands while also developing the productive use of non-timber forest products.
Another potential source of income, he said, was the potential sale of carbon off-set credits which come into existence automatically when Cambodia is preserving its natural areas.
“From 2016 to 2020, we sold $11.6 million in carbon credits, which we used to strengthen the protection and conservation of our natural resources with some of the money going directly to local communities.
“For example, at the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary the sale of carbon credits provided one village with $12,000 per year to spend on development however it wished,” he said.
The ministry has now expanded its carbon credit project locations to the central Cardamom Mountains in Tatai and in the southern Cardamom Mountains National Park in Koh Kong and Pursat provinces, with all of those projects funded by the animal conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance, he said.
The money from that project was spent on educating the locals on ways they can participate in the development of their commune.
The creation of communities in protected areas gives those communities the legal right to participate in the protection and conservation of natural resources while also improving cooperation and coordination between the locals and the ministries for the prevention of forest crimes and development of the economy.
“This collaboration strengthens the protection of our natural resources, because the people living around the protected areas are always there – night and day – and their presence is as good as a tall fence for deterring some crimes,” Pheaktra said.
Nong Nuon, member of the Prey Andong Dang Philit protected area community of the Chheb Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province, said he became a nature-defender because he wanted to preserve it for future generations.
“I was never a logger actually, I was just a small farmer, but when we formed this community we were able to develop our village and we began making an income from ecotourism,” he said.
Nuon said most of the community members in the area are elderly because the young and middle-aged people are not around because many of them had to take jobs in other provinces or even Thailand to earn money to support their families.
“We patrol three times a month, in a group of six or more at once for safety. Sometimes, we do encounter loggers and when we do we take pictures and note down whatever we can and report it to the authorities. Just the act of documenting their crimes on its own is sometimes enough to get them to leave the area for a time,” he said.
The environment ministry said that there were a total of 10,367 community sponsored patrols to protect natural resources last year that intervened in 7,464 incidents of forest crime, seizing 2,484 chainsaws while also removing nearly 30,000 traps and confiscating 1,100 cubic metres of illegally logged timber.