Ministry of Environment secretary of state Chea Samang emphasises the importance of enhancing the proficiency of local communities in business to foster confidence and self-reliance, crucial for the protection of natural resources.

He made the remarks during the opening of a workshop on the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre for Asia and the Pacific’s (RECOFTC) five-year strategic plan, held in Phnom Penh on March 4.

Samang stated that over the years, the centre has contributed significantly to the locals, particularly in conserving protected and community areas, and in sustainable harvesting of forest by-products. 

The efforts have also improved their livelihoods, he said, adding however that the current and future needs of these communities for sustenance support remain largely unmet and limited.

He noted the growing need for public aid, especially as natural resource conservation areas shrink and face various challenges. 

Samang stressed that a focused approach towards community activities is essential, including enabling local businesses and granting people authority over their own enterprises.

“If an individual’s livelihood is secured through a proper job, they will recognise the importance of protecting local natural resources. However, if their livelihood depends on these resources and is unstable, they may see them as a necessity,” he stated.

Samang noted that in the past, most resource crimes, like deforestation and logging, were committed by locals who sometimes failed to understand that, although they provided necessary income, such operations benefited only the wealthy and damaged the environment.

Markus Buerli, director of cooperation for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), commented that Cambodia’s vulnerability to environmental risks is heightened due to its reliance on natural resources. 

He said that oftentimes, the capability of locals in addressing ecological issues is limited in remote areas, leading to deforestation, forest erosion, loss of resources and exacerbating climate change.

“The 2023-28 strategic plan we are launching today will strengthen institutions, particularly in financial sustainability and environmental fields. It aims to empower and build the capacity of communities for more effective forest management and access,” he said.

Buerli highlighted that the plan’s goal is to provide inclusive income options, enhance community resilience and enable locals to benefit from the forests in a renewable context.

He explained that the objective aligns with the country’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), focusing on three main programmes: inclusive economic development without leaving anyone behind; governance and public participation by collaborating with the government to enhance services for the people and simultaneously allowing them to contribute to governmental improvements; and addressing climate change, particularly targeting key challenges in the Mekong region, with an emphasis on managing water, forests and their sustainable use.

Discussing the partnership for natural resource management with forest and fisheries communities, he mentioned that from 2014-23, the organisation worked with the government and supported up to 195 forestry and fishing villages, as well as protected area workers.

“We manage over 200,000ha of forest land, benefiting more than 35,000 people. We will continue to support capacity building in this regional institution through the new strategic plan,” he stated.

Buerli noted that under the scheme, RECOFTC will collaborate with all stakeholders, including government, private sector and development partners, with the aim of improving livelihoods, restoring forest landscapes, responding to climate change, and promoting gender equality and social inclusiveness.