Mondulkiri province achieved a significant milestone in 2023 by restoring over 25ha of forest cover, with support from the Ministry of Environment and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), primarily focusing on tree planting.

According to a December 2023 bulletin released by USAID in mid-January, the remote northeastern province, which shares its border with Vietnam, witnessed the restoration of 25.44ha of forest.

This rehabilitation involved planting more than 27,000 trees in Keo Seima district. The ministry coordinated this initiative with backing from the USAID Greening Prey Lang project and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cambodia.

Throughout 2023, the Greening Prey Lang team coordinated various events to promote forest cover restoration and engage approximately 600 locals in tree planting and maintenance activities. This effort aligns with the four-year reforestation initiative (2022-25) under the Keo Seima REDD+ project.

“The main goal is to restore and strengthen the 1,000ha forest cover, using local species to restore the forest and rehabilitate degraded soil layers. At the same time, the project aims to educate the communities living in and around the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary about the importance of long-term forest protection for their livelihoods and the success of the REDD+ project,” USAID stated. 

The project also plans to plant an additional 55,000 saplings on 50ha of degraded forest land previously cleared.

Environment ministry spokesperson Khvay Atiya said the government aims to increase forest cover by 60 per cent by 2025, aligning with the first phase of its Pentagonal Strategy. This year, the ministry plans to plant one million tree saplings through a nationwide campaign.

He said that partners like USAID play a crucial role in restoring forest cover and mitigating challenges posed by the climate crisis. 

“We have collaborated with partners such as USAID, the World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF] Cambodia and other organisations in conservation efforts and tree planting. Communities have actively participated in this campaign, which has gained momentum,” he said. 

Heng Kimhong, president of the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) and an environmental activist, views the re-planting of trees in cleared areas as a positive measure for forest cover restoration, rather than clearing the areas for private ownership.

“In addition to tree planting in cleared areas, relevant parties should implement two further measures. First, it should enhance cooperation to crack down on natural resource crimes. Second, it should strengthen support for non-governmental agencies, civil society organisations and communities to aid in the protection against and combating of these crimes,” he said. 

He urged the government to intensify its efforts, particularly among local authorities. He stressed the importance of avoiding involvement in any criminal activity or corruption and ensuring the sustainability of planted trees through effective measures.