The Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC) has released a special report on Cambodia’s forest communities, reflecting their way of life and their methods for managing community forest land over the past 30 years.

Totalling six chapters, the report describes the different forest management methods of forestry communities in each of Cambodia’s forest regions. It will serve as a reference for policymakers to consider when authoring or implementing forest-related national strategic development policies.

Tol Sokchea, head of Cambodia Forestry and Fisheries Partnership Project Phase III, which is a part of RECOFTC, told The Post that the special report focused on the communities living with natural resources, forests and wildlife in Cambodia before and after certain policy developments and the laws on forest management and other legal standards were enacted, as well as discussing the division of the proceeds from carbon credit sales in forestry communities.

“This report provides a basic understanding of the development of various models of forestry communities in Cambodia through the voices of those who make are active and visible there such as community members, NGO workers, government officials and other stakeholders.

“We hope that this report will provide further clarification on how to develop future policies and practices that enable forestry communities to reap the potential benefits of forests,” he said.

Sokchea added that in order to produce the report, he and three other team members studied and collected data from various sources and interviewed members of the communities and local authorities and specialists from relevant ministries and institutions beginning in 2018 in order to analyse and verify the accuracy of the information before finally publishing the report recently.

The report highlights the communities’ forest activities of individuals and communities engaged in the protection of the forest, such as those of forest activist Khea Sokchea in Chambok Hos village of Preah Vihear province’s Rovieng district.

The communities’ forest activist often advises domestic and international tourists to be aware of the warning messages on large trees in his forest community: “Kill me in the name of development” or “How can you live without me?”

“When tourists visit regularly the forests can be protected through the generation of income. When I imagine this future it makes me grateful for what I have done,” said Sokchea as quoted in the report.

According to the report, more than 80 per cent of Cambodia’s population still live in rural areas, relying on the country’s forests and other natural resources. But these communities are often left out of the country’s political and economic discussions and decision making and as a result many of the forests they have relied on for their livelihoods are suffering.

The report said there are still many challenges to the survival of Cambodia’s forest communities such as improper implementation of related laws, the poor quality of land allocated to forest communities and unequal access to benefits.

But not all communities are waiting around for the system to change. Activists like Sokchea are now charting their own courses as pioneers of community forest management.

Kim Sarin, deputy director of the Ministry of Environment’s Community Livelihoods Department, said in the report that some people feared that community forest programmes were an attempt by the government to evict them from the land.

“When they visit these places they are surprised to find that the communities living in and near the protected areas are using the forest for food, wood, medicine and income but now they do so sustainably,” he said.