The next round of USAID funding for protection of the Prey Lang forest will be preceded by a consultation process that environmentalists and experts studying the area are calling crucial.
In a statement released last week, USAID said it is “seeking public comments” before pumping $10 million to $25 million into projects to promote the responsible land management and sustainable development of the protected area.
The largest lowland evergreen forest in Southeast Asia, the area has been long plagued by illegal logging and disputes between villagers and agro-industrial firms.
For some working in the area, USAID money has played an invaluable role in their fight to preserve Prey Lang. But others argue that USAID-funded projects failed to take the needs of local communities into account.
“In the past, the aid didn’t meet the demands of local people,” said Hoeun Sopheap, a representative of the grassroots Prey Lang Community Network. “The community asked for forest management in one area, but USAID-funded groups only work in small community forests protected by the government.”
Instead, the activists say that USAID should bypass NGOs and provide resources directly to the local communities that best know the area and its needs.
Although USAID is under no obligation to modify its plans in accordance with the suggestions submitted, some experts say the call for public comment could lead to important improvements.
“I think it’s great that USAID is soliciting public comments,” said Courtney Work, a researcher focusing on climate change and land use in Cambodia. “There’s no question that some programs they’ve pushed through have had negative side effects. Perhaps these can be avoided with more public participation.”
USAID representatives declined to comment.