The Ministry of Environment is cooperating with Wild Earth Allies Cambodia (WEA) to reduce conflict between wild Asian elephants and residents in Pursat province’s protected areas where the animals live. The project involves creating economic incentives that reduce pressure on natural resources, thereby minimising hunting and deforestation.

Neth Pheaktra, ministry secretary of state and spokesman, discussed the project while conducting an April 21 inspection of a plantation in a natural community protected area. The plantation, in Pramuoy commune’s Phchek Chrum village of Veal Veng district, offered an alternative income stream for local residents.

“In the past, some of the residents of Phchek village engaged in illegal logging or snared wild animals. We explained the impact of these activities to them, and provided the training and support they needed to grow vegetables, and they have changed their occupations,” he said.

“This is a positive solution. We need to offer them alternative ways to earn a living,” he added.

Pheaktra said the project was initially implemented through 10 families, who are growing cucumbers, eggplants, cabbages and peppers. They have also been provided with net greenhouses so they can grow vegetables all year round.

He added that the ministry will encourage more families to begin growing crops commercially.

“This option makes people happy as they know that it is legal work. When they were logging trees or trapping animals, they knew they ran the risk of legal consequences if they were caught. This is why we have been working with partner organisations to change people’s options and reduce the pressure on natural resources,” he continued.

He called on the people living in the sanctuary to avoid harming the elephants.

“Some people try to scare the elephants away by laying boards with nails along the paths the animals use, or through electrical shock devices. This practice is inappropriate and needs to cease immediately. People should use traditional methods to keep them away, like making loud noises,” he said.

Tuy Sereivathana, WEA programme manager, noted that the protection project was implemented in Pramuoy commune’s Chheuteal Chrum and Phchek Chrum villages in May last year.

“We intend to expand the project within these communities, and will apply it in the future to anywhere where there is conflict between humans and elephants,” he said.

He explained that vegetables like peppers and eggplants are less attractive to elephants than the families’ traditional crops of sugarcane and bananas.

“When a crop is attractive to an elephant, it is understandably very difficult to stop the animals from getting to it. This is why we recommend vegetables that they don’t seem to be as interested in,” he added.

Seng Teak, country director of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia, said elephants as a species are very loyal to their habitat.

“Even if they are away for two to five years, they will inevitably return,” he said, citing biological studies.

“If we want to eliminate conflict, we need to plant crops that they find unattractive. We should also take note of the paths they use and the places they go,” he said.

Pouch Ra, the 53-year-old head of one of the families chosen for the project, said he had previously operated a small-scale woodworking factory, but the income was very unstable.

Ra added that he is growing older and does not have the energy for timber work, and was introduced to vegetable cultivation techniques.

He said he now has 10,000sq m planted with cucumbers, beans, eggplants and peppers.

“When the market is good, I can get around 2,000 riel [$.50] per kilogramme for my crops. My family and I can pick around 100kg per day during the harvesting season,” he said.

“I am very happy that I decided to take up growing vegetables.”