FAO in Cambodia


Communities counter climate change ensuring livelihoods with forest and landscape restoration

Ms Lay Koeuk (third from the right-hand side) joining the tree planting ceremony supported by GEF's funded Life and Nature project.

By 7 a.m. in the morning, lunch boxes, water, axe or hooked knifes, which will be useful for a day in the forest, are ready. Ms Lay Koeuk and her husband begin to herd their 20 cattle, walking toward a nearby forest. Carrying a bag of food on the shoulder, the couple walks about four kilometers to reach a forest and then up to an area where soft and green grass is available for their cattle. After that, they continue into the forest for about six or seven kilometers in search for forest resources, which they can sell. The income is then used to buy fish, meat, and others basic necessities to support their livelihood. Around 7 p.m. she finishes preparing dinner for her family of three. This is how Ms Lay Koeuk, 40, describes a day in her life, after rice cultivation -one of her main tasks of the year- is over.

Ms Koeuk said that her family, as many others, strongly relies on forest resources for food like nuts, fruits, resins, mushrooms, aromatic herbs or medicinal plants, as well as for fuelwood and fibers to build fences or small handicrafts. These families cherish a unique traditional knowledge of properties of forest products. They need to enter the forest almost every day to collect different forest resources, which are diverse depending on the season.

“This month, I collect a kind of grass - I do not know its name, but this is for medicine. I can sell it for 5 500 Riel (USD 1.1) per gram. Middlemen come to our villages to collect this grass from us every day. From April to May, for example, many villagers go to collect mushrooms that could be sold for USD 10 per kilogram,” Ms Koeuk described.

Her family owns a large plot of land for rice farming. During the harvest season, she can sell surplus, allowing her to generate from 3 to 4 million Riel (USD 730-975) per year. However, this entire amount goes into her saving account. The money will be reserved for two major endeavors: building a home and covering the education cost of her child. 

“I am building a bigger home – it is not yet completed, because I cannot afford to get the construction done in one go. I have to do it step by step. Money generated from rice farming is also kept for the education of my daughter. She is studying hard, she really likes it. So, I discussed with my husband and we agreed that we will support our child until she obtains higher education,” said Ms Koeuk.

The forest that Ms Koeuk referred to is known as Prey Pur Mekbuon (in  Khmer language, “prey” means “forest”), which was legally registered as a Community Forest (CF) in 2020. Hundreds of households in this community rely on this forest, as their livelihood depends on both farming and forest resources. 

Located in Pyuor Chrok village, Kolen Cheung commune, Preah Vihear province, the CF is one the most significant catchments in this province. One of its main roles is to support a nearby crucially important stream, namely Steung Ro Ngeang (“steung” means “stream” in Khmer), allowing it to maintain adequate water level. Steung Ro Ngeang is a tributary of Preah Vihear’s main stream, Steung Sen, which then flows into the Tonle Sap River. This creek supports households in these communities for their farming activities  and for fishing.

In the last few years, these communities were at high risk of losing this forest due to illegal logging and forest encroachment, with a high risk of severe water shortage. There have been growing concerns over how degradation will affect farming outputs and the supply of forest products.

“We are trying to protect this forest since 2000, but it is very difficult. People’s inadequate understanding of the significance of forest and the lack of clear boundaries for the forest and farming land makes it hard to successfully manage this forest,” Mr Chheng Uy, Kulen Chheung Commune Chief, recalled, after a  decade of experience in preserving the forest. 

However, “things have significantly changed,” continued Mr Chheng Uy, “thanks to the significant support from GEF’s funded Life and Nature Project, combined with their good coordination with all relevant stakeholders, including the Forestry Administration Office, the Provincial Department of Environment, local authorities, and communities.”

“It was a challenging work, but this project hit the right approach by involving all relevant stakeholders to fix the boundaries of this Community Forest, which is now 582 hectares in size. Today, our CF is legally registered. So we have a clear boundary and a well working patrol system making it easy to manage.”

Forest prevents soil erosion, cuts the volume of sediment entering the streams, and contributes to the quality and availability of water, notably ensuring ground water recharge. These are key to ensuring a balanced ecosystem and supporting biodiversity.

Mr Peung Tryda, Director of Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, has strongly supported the forest restoration. He spoke in a recent tree planting event organized with the support of the Life and Nature project on 15 July 2020. “The ecosystem function is possible, and biodiversity is ensured only when the forest of this community is maintained and restored. Forest, water and agriculture cannot be disconnected.”

He mentioned that the tree planting ceremony firmly strengthened understanding of communities about the significance of forests and increased their willingness to support efforts in preserving, protecting, and re-planting the forest.

Both Mr Peung Tryda and Mr Lonh Ponnarith, Deputy Chief of the Forestry Administration Cantonment and Forestry Administration Office commented that, “key to this success has been the improved knowledge of communities about forest, about linkages between forest and agriculture, strengthening capacity and increasing participation of communities. Thanks to Life and Nature for this effort and for other innovative farming techniques”.  

According to Mr Lonh Ponnarith, 15 patrolling groups, each consisting of 15 members, have been set up, with a role to join forces, notably to protect the forest from illegal logging and help manage forest fires.

The Life and Nature Project is jointly implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO), the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The project has supported the planting of 12 700 seedlings of fast growing trees, commercial timbers species, and 450 seedlings of flooded forest tree species on 20 hectare of land in Pur Mekbuon CF. In 2018 already, 10 835 seedlings of these fast-growing trees and commercial timbers species were planted on more than 14 hectares in degraded land of this CF.