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Treehugging in Cambodia

Puy Chorch, 58, from Banon village, Batambong, Cambodia

Puy Chorch, a 58-year-old subsistence farmer

June 2011

Land-hungry corporations and powerful people in Cambodia are threatening to take over land and resources that hundreds of thousands of poor rural households depend on for survival.

To help rural people stand up for their rights and protect their resources, Christian Aid partner Development and Partnership in Action (DPA) is helping indigenous communities in north-western Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces to claim control over their land, forests and rivers.

Deforestation and land-grabbing

'People with big machines who do big business, cut down the old trees deep in the forest. Nobody noticed the forest was being degraded.'

Like others in neighbouring villages in Battambang's Banon district, Puy Chorch, a 58-year-old subsistence farmer, depends on his local forest's produce such as medicinal plants, mushrooms and bamboo shoots to supplement his meagre living.

But decades of deforestation and now land grabbing are threatening to deny Puy Chorch and his community these important resources.

In Cambodia, trees are measured in hugs and Puy recalls a time when the forest was thick and when some trees could be measured in one or two big wide hugs. Unfortunately this is no longer the case.

As Puy explains, 'People started cutting down the trees for charcoal during the years of the Khmer Rouge.

'It was what everyone did - locals and people from far away. Then people with big machines who do big business, cut down the old trees deep in the forest. Nobody noticed the forest was being degraded.'

The area is also under threat as a result of government policies to sign over much of Cambodia's land - particularly forest land - to local and foreign companies, or to set it aside for energy infrastructure development.

Taking control of the forest

Sean Mai, 59, the community forestry committee leader in Banon district Cambodia

Sean Mai, Forest Management Committee leader

After realising the importance of their threatened resources, Puy's community decided to act and take control of the forest for themselves.

DPA has supported the community in setting up a Forest Management Committee and getting official permission from the government to manage the 1,015 hectares of its resources. The committee is now mapping the forest, preparing an inventory of its resources, and devising a plan to protect it from loggers and poachers.

'One solution has been to nail "Landmine" warnings to trees to put people off entering!' says Sean Mai, the committee leader. 'One company came to the forest for logging but we chased them away.'

The committee is also planning to allocate management of different areas of the forest to each local village so that it can have better protection in the future.

Puy Chorch and Sean Mai don't mind that the real benefits may not be felt for years.

‘We hope the next generation will be able to use some of the wood from big trees to build their homes. The area could become a site for eco-tourism too. When the big trees were cut, the animal numbers dropped. But now we see peacocks, monkeys and deer again. Local people used to hunt the animals but now the communities have joined together and we are educating one another not to hunt.'

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