By Dy Vutheara
Communications Officer | Cambodia Country Program, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests
The forest has long been a prominent feature of daily life for the members of the Prey Kbal Bey community forest (CF), who reside within the Ti Por commune. As part of Cambodia’s Kampong Thom Province, these 761 hectares, located in central Cambodia, are more than an ecological system home to a variety of species like wild pigs and beautiful birds that attract eager visitors. These hectares also act as an age old protector of the 61 families who live in close proximity to the forest and manage its resources through the sustainable division of land into restoration, conservation, firewood extraction and family pole extraction zones. This special bond has formed a mutually beneficial relationship: the forest is conserved, and the Prey Kbal Bey residents are provided with ample resources for their livelihoods.
No one knows how to uphold this special relationship better than the community leader himself, Khoun Mon. Khoun Mon, who has worked closely with local community members and RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forest for more than ten years, has participated in many of RECOFTC’s projects. Most recently, RECOFTC has been working with Khoun Mon and other Community Forestry Management Committees (CFMCs) to pilot a participatory monitoring and evaluation system that helps local communities capture their CF progress. This project, however, is part of a longer lineage of projects, including SFMRLE (funded by the EU)[i], PAFF (funded by SDC)[ii], SRJS (funded by IUCN Netherlands)[iii], and SMCF - ICFMP (funded by Sida)[iv]. By focusing on CF legalization, Community Forestry Management Plan (CFMP) development and implementation, as well as CF crediting in the previous projects, the most recent project is a perfect successor.
RECOFTC, through local initiatives like these, has thus been eager to formalize and build the capacities of CFMCs in the area, aiming to strengthen the membership’s voices internally and externally. In so doing, CFMC leaders and community members, have played stronger roles in the decision making process related to forest management in Cambodia.
For Cambodia, this drive to promote local inclusivity is imperative if the Royal Government of Cambodia is to achieve the desired goal of 60% forest cover by 2029. In 1963, 73% of the country was covered by forest, but after the civil war large-scale concessions occurred in an attempt to improve the country’s economic and political systems. This, due to the circumstances at the time, led to an increased prevalence of illegal logging and unsustainable practices, which in turn resulted in systematic deforestation – as of 2014, the Forestry Administration recorded only 49.48% of Cambodia’s land was covered by forest.
Understanding the gravity of the situation, the government—specifically the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)—turned towards community forestry in 2012, seemingly more interested in hearing localized perspectives on agriculture, fishery, and forest related issues. One representation of such is the annual Farmer Conference, which is an event hosted by MAFF and designed to bring in local members to share their achievements and build strong support networks. And as leader of the Prey Kbal Bey CFMC, Khoun Mon briefly traded the sounds of the forests for the sounds of the city and headed into Phnom Penh after competing with other Kampong Thom Province CFs, eventually moving to the semi-finalist and finalist round.
For Khoun Mon, this event was not about competing with other groups, but rather about sharing the reality of what it is like to provide ground work for Cambodia’s forest management goals, especially forest restoration. This is not entirely a national goal for Khoun Mon; it is communal as well. Reforestation provides his CF with additional benefits, as planting trees will provide income to portions of his community. This last point was one that he wished to provide administrators with: the dynamic movement of local forest management. Local communities’ efforts to conserve and reforest the diverse landscapes of Cambodia are not solely beneficial towards achieving government agendas, but they are mutually beneficial, as local communities are able to preserve the special relationship and enhance their own well-being. This message was well received, and Khoun Mon took home the first place prize for his local CF.
Of course, with his sense of humor, Mr. Mon was also able to see the individual benefits acquired through this, noting that it did indeed help him build more confidence speaking in front of large audiences and to government officials. Nonetheless, he kept his community in mind, an important aspect of his leadership abilities. When provided the first place award, which included a hand tractor, a certificate, and USD 500, he was quick to proclaim to all of the CF members that the hand tractor belonged to everyone. This event was truly a success for Community Forestry in Cambodia!
[i] Sustainable Forest Management and Rural Livelihood Enhancement through Community Forestry and REDD Initiatives in Cambodia, Funding from the European Union
[ii] Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries (PAFF)—Funding from Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
[iii] Share Resource Join Solution—Funding from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Netherlands
[iv] Sustainable Management of Community Forestry through Implementation of Community Forestry Management Plan—Funding from Sida, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Forum Syd