H appy 1996, Phnom Penh Post! I found the "Peoples' Forests" article
by Mang Channo (in the Post January 12-25, 1996) very interesting. It was a very
informative and well-written article.
There are two points that I would like to make here. First of all, I strongly concur
with the idea of placing the land stewardship responsibility to the local population,
with some limited guidance from experts in such field. The villagers can't possibly
do it alone without technical and possibly financial support from the Government
or NGOs. People will help themselves if you show them how to do it. Things should
not be done or provided for by others. It is common sense to teach the people how
to do things for themselves. I think that everyone would agree with that. With that,
I would like to personally praise the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), specifically
Mr. Larry Groff, and others for taking the lead on this.
Secondly, I am a little concerned at the approach to this kind of land stewardship
program. I am most concerned with the widespread planting of non-native plant species,
such as the acadia or eucalyptus. The use of this kind of plant material could be
a problem for the native forest of the future. I do agree, however, that limited
use of such non-native species is valid for a certain area. Such species should be
strictly used as a short-term mitigation measure, such as temporary shade trees.
However, such non-native species should not be used on a wide spread or long-term
basis. The reason is simple; it's a mistake. Non-native species tend to out-compete
native species for the available nutrients and sunlight. It is especially true for
the fast growing acacia species. It has the tendency to absorb all the available
nutrients from the surrounding soil to feed its fast growing characteristic and thus
render the area soil unproductive of future utilization. Long-term soil productivity
and native plant regeneration could be adversely affected by the widespread use of
such non-native plant species.
I am concerned because acacia trees are being considered a "miracle" plant
species by both the local populations and by the forestry officials throughout the
Kingdom. Yes, it is a quick (short-term) fix to an on-going problem brought on by
past and present forest clearing. However, improper use of such "quick solutions"
may end up more devastating in the future for Cambodia's native forests and degrading
soil productivity. For instance, in Siem Reap province the majority of reforestation
is done by planting non-native species, such as acacia seedlings because acadia "grows
very fast." Such practices, if allow to continue, would eventually destroy Siem
Reap's native forest and soil fertility.
Nothing else would grow there, except acacia trees and unwanted or undesirable (trash)
species. Native species required a certain amount of nutrients, water, and sunlight
that may have been reduced by the fast growing non-native species. I don't think
that the Siem Reap's people or the rest of Khmers in the Kingdom wanted to have their
forest pack with non-native and trash vegetation.
The short term gains are good, but at what price? Sometime people (villagers and/or
NGO experts) must learn how to balance both short and long-term gains in order to
be effective in land stewardship and thus environmental conservation. If one is learning
one way or the other too much, the effort is only defeating itself. What I saw in
Cambodia's limited reforestation program, such as in Siem Reap province, is not very
effective and could even be labeled as degrading the area's natural environment.
I fear for the area's native vegetation being totally overrun with non-native and
trash plant species.
I must also admit that it is much easier to criticize than to actually do it. Therefore,
I must applaud the effort made so far by Khmer villagers, forestry officials, the
local and international NGO's experts in establishing a land stewardship program.
I only wish that they take into consideration and analyze the effects of their actions
in introducing non-native plant species.
At any rate, I do what I preach (not just all talk). I do not want to be labeled
as a hypocrite by anyone. I do what I can for Cam-bodia's natural environment at
every available opportunity. I will continue to do what I can for my native country
and her people, that's a promise.
- Ronnie Yimsut, USDA Forest Service, Oregon, USA.