The Ministry of Environment is planning to provide drones to each of the Kingdom’s provincial departments of environment. It expects that the unmanned aircraft will enhance the effectiveness of natural resource management and reduce the number of forest crimes that take place in Cambodia’s more than seven million hectares of protected forest areas.

Ministry spokesperson Khvay Atitya told the Post on May 23 that the plan to use drone technology will support the patrol work of forest rangers.

 “We are implementing drone patrols in natural resource protected areas. We will continue to distribute drones to strengthen patrol activities and prevent natural resource crimes. We intend to equip every provincial department of environment with drones,” he said.

“Under the seventh-mandate government, we are embracing the use of modern technology to strengthen the protection and conservation of natural resources. We are also using satellites to monitor protected areas,” he added.

As of the end of 2023, the ministry employed some 1,100 environmental rangers who patrol 73 protected areas, covering over seven million hectares – equivalent to more than 40 per cent of the Kingdom’s land mass.

In August 2021, the environment ministry equipped rangers in the Preah Monivong Bokor National Park in Kampot province with drones to assist them with their patrols.

The directors of several provincial departments welcomed the expansion of the project. 

Chao Bunthoeun, director of the Mondulkiri environment department, explained that at present, his department has just 94 rangers. They are responsible for patrolling over one million hectares of protected areas in the province. 

“I am delighted to hear that drones will be issued. They will assist us a lot in our patrol work because they will give us a bird’s-eye view, allowing us to see much further. Currently, we only patrol on land and cannot reach everywhere,” he said.

The large size of the protected forests is not balanced with the number of rangers, he added, meaning it is hard for the rangers to fulfil their duties and reach the farthest-flung corners of the forests, particularly in the rainy season. 

Siem Reap department director Sun Kong believed the drones will allow his team to take timely action against natural resource crimes, especially in the deep forest.

“Some places are very difficult to reach. Using drones makes it far easier for us to patrol. It takes far less time to inspect a specific location in a protected area. Unmanned aircraft will allow us to see if land is being encroached on far earlier,” he explained.

The environment ministry is also developing a mobile app which will keep track of newly planted trees, as part of Minister of Environment Eang Sophalleth’s intention to ensure one million new trees are planted every year.

 Members of the public who plant saplings will be able to monitor the growth of the tree. The ministry could not confirm when the app will be available for download.

“Once people plant a sapling, it will belong to them. They will be able to name the tree and upload pictures of it into the app. They will be able to follow its progress through the app,” explained Sophalleth, during a press conference to discuss “Cambodia’s Green Strategy”, held early this week. 

“The app was created to encourage people to love trees,” he said.

The minister added that the app is completed, and is currently undergoing final testing.

“They are testing it to make sure there will be no errors if tens of thousands of people upload photographs at the same time,” he said.

Sophalleth also highlighted the success of the ministry’s efforts to produce young trees, noting that they have grown 1.2 million seedlings in just the seven months since he took office.