The Sansom Mlup Prey Organisation (SMP) has dug a total of three ponds as part of its pilot project on wildlife-friendly community irrigation ponds in the Kulen Prom Tep protected area in Preah Vihear province, where most residents depend on agriculture and often face water shortages that affect their rice production.

The scarcity of water due to climate change and other factors have caused many problems for farmers and impacted biodiversity in the area. The Wildlife Rescue Community Pond Project was established to provide solutions to these problems that will benefit villagers and animals as well as being useful locations for providing ecosystem services to local communities.

SMP – founded in 2009 by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cambodia to enable the cultivation of premium organic rice in remote communities inside the sanctuary through the IBIS Rice Programme – presented the results of the pond project last week, in a workshop attended by provincial governor Kim Rithy and representatives of the Ministry of Environment, among others.

The project, launched on May 2020, intends to not only be a source of water for the community to use, but also for wildlife in order to contribute to conservation efforts.

Song Chan Socheat, director of the provincial environment department who was also present at the workshop, said his department is in charge of managing 10 protected areas with a total size of more than 960,000ha, including nine protected areas spanning more than 770,000ha and one “Oddar” biodiversity conservation corridor covering an area of over 190,000ha.

“In these 10 protected areas, the Kulen Prom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary has 14 communities living on an area of 20,304.22ha in size with a total of 2,043 households,” he said.

The department has been working in partnership with SMP since 2009 to co-develop and monitor the status of the sanctuary and also on the IBIS wildlife-friendly rice project to help with the improvement of community livelihoods.

Two villages in the conservation area were selected for the pond project due to the importance of biodiversity there and their past experience participating in the IBIS Rice Programme and ecotourism projects run by Sam Veasna Conservation Tours (SVC) – which organises birding and wildlife viewing trips with unique access to WCS sites across the country.

The SMP’s pilot project has dug a total of three ponds in the villages – two in Tmartbouy and another in Prey Veng.

In the past, the challenge for farmers was the lack of irrigation systems for production, which makes paddy rice very dependent on rainfall, especially the Wildlife Friendship Rice Project, which suffered from the short drought during the rainy season.

Without water during this critical period, farmers can lose their crops, which means they cannot make much from rice cultivation.

Min Makara, deputy head of the ministry’s General Department of Local Community, said the project has strengthened the capacity of community agriculture and helped conserve wildlife.

“This workshop provided insights into project implementation and research achievements on the potential for sustainable development in the Kulen Prom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary Community Protected Area and the results of the wildlife-friendly community irrigation ponds.

“Stakeholders, including local authorities and partner organisations, will continue to participate in activities to protect and conserve natural resources and community livelihoods,” he said.

Chan Socheat also mentioned that the wildlife-friendly community irrigation ponds also supported the community in providing organic rice cultivation techniques with the community marketing network and community pond management in the Kulen Prom Tep sanctuary.

“This project also strengthens the capacity of agricultural work in efforts to protect the environment, conserve wildlife and improve the lives of communities,” he added.

These ponds benefit farmers who have contiguous farmland by allowing them to extract water for use and farmers within the pond’s user clusters will be responsible for managing water resources as agreed upon in the contract’s conservation plan.

Preah Vihear governor Rithy said: “The presence of SMP and WCS Cambodia has contributed significantly to improving community livelihoods and protecting natural resources, as well as sustainable conservation and has made a significant contribution to changing the mindset of the community.”