On International Day of Forests, we talked to our member NGOF on the importance of community-based forest management.
Forests are a sustainable source of livelihood for many local communities in Asia. In Cambodia, around three-quarters of the country’s rural population are subsistence farmers. Many of them depend on access to forest resources to sustain their livelihoods, e.g. gaining essential produce, energy, food, and non-timber forest products (NTFP) like bamboo, seasonal fruits, and many others.
“Forests are important to the culture and traditions of indigenous communities, as they rely on forests for their spiritual activities, burial sites, and other cultural activities of the communities,” says Sophea Pheap of ILC member organisation the NGO Forum on Cambodia (NGOF).
NGOF works with government agencies at the local and national levels to ensure proper stewardship of natural resources such as land, forests, and water, for the benefit of all Cambodian people and indigenous communities. Together with the Land and Housing Rights Network (LAHRIN), in which four ILC members actively participate and make up the National Land Coalition (NLC) in the country, NGOF aims to raise awareness, advocate and continue building capacity for protecting the land rights and food sovereignty of the forest communities.
On 17-18 March 2022, NGOF organised a training session on community forest management at Chang Kran Roy community forest in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The training was led by Chhoeurn Sody, a woman community forest leader who shared her success story on cooperating with the private sector for the emerging eco-tourism sector in the country.
The government has done some work towards protecting the interests of local communities. For example, the Cambodian Forest Law (2002) provides a legal basis for rural communities to participate in forest management through community forestry. And until 2006, additional regulations were established for a clearer process of implementation.
However, since Cambodia started adopting a free-market economy, development projects have been increasing rapidly without fully applying Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and proper Environment Impact Assessment (EIP). This has created land and housing conflicts, which are considered persistent problems in Cambodia.
Sophea further explained that some of LAHRIN’s main priorities include strengthening the governance and networking of nature-based communities including indigenous peoples, (ii) improving the livelihoods of communities, (iii) producing evident-based information of illegal logging and forest land encroachment for policy dialogues, and (iv) advocating for improvement and enforcement of forest-related regulations and new initiatives such as REDD+ (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), the European Union Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), and biodiversity financing.