The Swiss-backed Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries (PaFF) project has been working for over a decade to improve the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of residents of forest communities. It works to ensure they have the legal right to manage, protect and benefit from the natural resources of the land.

PaFF works with 120 forestry communities, 64 fisheries communities and 11 protected area communities in Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces.

The communities the project supports now manage over 200,000ha.

During a May 24 workshop concerning the experiences, lessons and innovations the project had identified in the past 10 years, Markus Buerli, director of cooperation of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Cambodia, noted that although many rural Cambodian people depended heavily on natural resources for their livelihoods, many of them were unaware of their right to manage the resources for themselves.

He explained that the PaFF project had helped nearly 100,000 Cambodians to secure these rights, improving their living standards and allowing them to contribute to Cambodia’ efforts to solve climate change issues and protect nature.

“Overall, 35,000 households, representing over 94,000 people, have benefited from the project’s support, one-fifth of them from [ethnic] minorities. Moreover, about 30 per cent of the leadership roles in these communities are women,” he said.

Camilla Ottosson, head of International Development Cooperation of the Swedish embassy, said that through its focus on rights and responsibility, the project had strengthened cooperation between the Cambodian government and local communities.

“This is evidenced by improved response to communities reporting illegal activities, more participation from community representatives in formulating policies, and the authorities’ adoption of communities’ plans to manage forestry and fisheries,” she added.

Keo Vanna, chief of the Kampong Thom Provincial Community Forestry Network, said the project shared information with 20 communities in her network.

She added that the project had also organised 10 multilateral forums, with community representatives mobilising support to help the communities promote their rights and suggest adjustments to laws.

“The network has given many opportunities. I have been able to access training both at home and abroad, and have used this knowledge to help the communities who elected me their representative,” she added.

The PaFF project noted that natural resources in Cambodia now receive more protection than in the past, as communities have increased patrols and are more prepared to report offences associated with land and natural resources.

From 2012-2022, the project reported on 482 offences involving forestry crimes or land grabbing, with 60 of them addressed. The project had also assisted the communities with businesses like honey harvesting and eco-tourism.

In order to help the communities maintain long-term sustainable natural resources management, the project created credit schemes and mini trust funds in 141 communities, with a capital of over $1.4 million.

Vong Sopanha, deputy head of the Fisheries Administration under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, acknowledged that the sustainable, efficient management of natural resources required ensuring the livelihoods of local communities.

“Truly, the improvement of community livelihoods has made a significant contribution to managing natural resources,” he said.