Contributed by WWF-Cambodia
“Community Protected Areas (CPAs) made me who I am today,” said Mom Chanthy with a grin, as she shares the story of her journey from member of a CPA to a commune leader in Krang Tes.
Across the world, communities play a crucial role in protecting natural resources and conserving biodiversity. Mondulkiri is home to 18 CPAs - nine in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary and nine in Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary of WWF’s supported Eastern Plains Landscape.
Here, communities have been actively engaged in activities planning and implementation for almost two decades to sustainably manage their 57,361 hectares of forest areas and access to natural resources, increasing their livelihoods and economic opportunities.
A total of 82 percent of the 17,507 CPA members are the indigenous ethnic Bunong (Phnong) people, who have practiced sustainable harvesting and management of natural resources for generations.
With 43 percent of them being women, these CPAs have created opportunities to alleviate gender inequality by empowering women to take part in and lead their communities.
This was the experience of Mom Chanthy, who three years after joining a honey group set up by her locality’s CPA in 2008, was promoted to lead it.
“I was involved in activities to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable natural resource management and promoted the sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products to my community,” Mom explains. “I also learned a lot of leadership skills while I was a member.”
Today, Mom works as a local government official, serving as the Commune Chief of Trang Tes. In her new role, she remains determined to continue to safeguard the forest and natural resources in the community through collaboration with Krang Tes’ CPA.
"If CPA members in our community encounter any crimes while they are on patrol, we, as the local authority, are ready to step in," Mom said. "If there is any project that requires our agreement, we are pleased to discuss and find ways to protect the natural resources in the entire community together."
In CPAs, sustainable agriculture can provide many opportunities for alternative livelihoods. To take advantage of the opportunities, Tonsong Koh Nhaek Agricultural Community was established in 2019. This brought together 120 farmers from four CPAs in Srepok and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuaries.
Members of the Tonsong Koh Nhaek Agricultural Community implement environmentally-friendly agricultural practices. They avoid hunting wildlife, illegal logging, forest encroachment and environmental pollution through the use of agro-chemicals.
Farmers involved receive training in sustainable farming techniques to achieve high yields that do not negatively impact the environment. They also receive additional support, including quality inspections and marketing assistance.
“Members in my community mainly work with their vegetable crops, and they sometimes collect non-timber forest products like fruit, honey and mushrooms, which can provide additional income for them,” explains 34-year old Sorn Sokea, a mother and internal control system committee member for Tonsong Koh Nhaek.
CPA members in Tonsong Koh Nhaek mainly earn income from growing vegetables and collecting non-timber forest products varies from season-to-season. But, on the whole, they provide a sustainable source of income that benefits the community.
“They are able to earn approximately four to five million riel ($1,000 to 1,250) a month selling products from their own farms,” she adds, cheerily.
Previously a housewife in Koh Nhaek, Sorn is now an active group leader in Tonsong Koh Nhaek agricultural community. She has joined many workshops and training sessions outside the box of her community, and has met stakeholder includes, development partners, NGOs, and government officials.
“I am happy when I’m able to help my community,” says Sorn. “What makes me most proud as a CPA member is when my community’s products, including organic vegetables, are displayed at big occasions. This makes me proud, not only because the products are displayed, but because of the commitment of my members in trying to find ways to grow those organic vegetables without harming any natural resources in the community.”
Impact of CPAs
CPAs can have a transformational impact on many of the lives of its members. Liv Si Yen, a 36-year-old farmer and father-of-two, resides in Tong Sorg Koh Khaek and is no exception. In the past, he was left with little option but to hunt and log illegally in an attempt to support his family.
“Life was so difficult for me and my family back when we could only get a small income from hunting and illegal logging. I didn’t even have enough money for my kids to go to school before I became a member of the CPA,” he says. “I still regret the things I have done.”
Today, Si Yen grows and sells his own vegetables from the farm he set up after joining the CPA. He now earns one to 1.5 million riel a month ($240 to $365). He is now able to send his children to school and better cover his family’s expenses.
"My family livelihood is now much better,” he explains. “CPA has shown me many good ways to make a living from our natural resources without harming our rich biodiversity in our community. I grow many kinds of vegetables like kale, chillies, cucumber and eggplants. I’m happy with my farming life.”
With a growing regional and global demand for natural rubber, this industry also represents an opportunity for CPA members to strengthen their livelihoods with rubber plantations cultivated sustainably.
However, rubber plantations can lead to deforestation if they are poorly managed. So, to ensure a sustainable and inclusive rubber value chain in Cambodia, a platform to engage multi-partners is critical.
Thy Nen, 29, is a rubber smallholder who started her CPA journey in 2019. Her family’s primary source of income is their rubber plantation. In the past, they used traditional techniques to grow and harvest. Since joining the CPA, they have learned and applied sustainable practices to enhance their rubber yields, while mitigating negative impacts on their local environment.
“A few years ago, we knew nothing about how to tap rubber property, and we failed to collect latex oozes from the rubber tree. I joined the CPA to seek support and expand opportunities to enhance our livelihood, and learned and improved a lot regarding the technique and skill of taking care of rubber trees,” she said.
About 264 rubber smallholders are currently receiving technical assistance and hands-on training for sustainable rubber production, with support provided through a partnership between WWF and the government. Together they are learning to engage in sustainable, natural rubber production, and, critically, they are being assisted with access to markets.
“By joining as a member in the community, CPA is also able to find a market for us with a trusted price to ensure the security of sustainable rubber production,” says Thy Nen.
Among the non-timber forest products providing livelihood opportunities in community protected areas, honey harvest is a deep-rooted and sustainable practice that has been carried out for many generations in the communities living adjacent to protected areas supported by WWF.
“I love forests, I love bees and I want to protect them at all cost in order to inspire other members in my community to benefit from our natural resources in sustainable ways,” explains 32-year-old Sro Phary, who is the sales manager of the honey group in her community.
“Beside working as a farmer and housewife in my family, I have worked as a CPA member for 14 years,” Phary says. “I now focus on purchasing honey from my members and finding a market for them to export.”
The Mondulkiri wild honey brand, registered as a Geographical Indication (GI) product trademark since 2021, is now protected against counterfeiting in national and international markets.
It is helping improve local economies of communities in Mondulkiri through enhanced skills, income generation and livelihoods, while providing an incentive for their active involvement in conserving the forests of the Eastern Plains.
With her commitment toward CPA, Phary has developed herself, gaining more experiences regarding communication skills and establishing networks as she has to deal with different companies to sell the product of her community, wild honey.
Across the 18 CPAs, 449 individual members are helping to protect and restore the ecosystems in which they live, while strengthening their livelihoods. Among them, six women work on the executive committee for the honey group, including Phary. Each of these women is able to harvest 30 to 60kg of honey annually. This amount has the potential to provide their community with an income from $134,700 to $269,400.
Thanks to the dedication and participation of indigenous people and women like Phary, Mom and Sorn, who represent the heart of community protected areas across Cambodia, many communities are now thriving alongside their natural resources, as not only the ecosystems are protected, but living conditions improve for families.
CPA’s capacity building, active engagement in natural conservation as well as their livelihood enhancement initiatives are financially supported by USAID, European Union, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the German Government’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.