Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina has assigned a working group to review the proposed Community Action for Sustainable Forests (CASFor), a project designed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to protect natural resources and improve people’s livelihoods in Prey Lang in northern Cambodia.

FAO representative in Cambodia Rebekah Bell presented the plan to Tina during their meeting in Phnom Penh on February 20.

Ministry spokeswoman Im Rachana told The Post that the project focuses on conserving natural resources and boosting people’s livelihoods in the forest, which stretches across four provinces: Kampong Thom, Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear.

“Before the minister approves the project, a working group must review all aspects including its political, economic and societal impacts, and determine what benefits it will bring to stakeholders, especially the people of these provinces,” she said.

Rachana added that the initial proposal suggested the project would start in July this year. This date may or may not be adjusted, depending on the working group’s findings.

According to the proposal, the project will benefit both forest and protected area communities. There are 172 forest communities – with a total population of 88,317 – and 40 protected area communities, which are home to 28,886 people.

Environmental activist San Mala said he supports the project’s community action plan for increasing sustainability in Prey Lang which, according to Conservation International (CI), is one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining lowland evergreen forest and the Kingdom’s largest protected area.

“It should provide economic benefits to the people so they will no longer contemplate taking part in illegal logging, or other activities that deplete the Kingdom’s natural resources,” he told The Post on February 21.

“If the project works as well as expected, the state should provide additional funding and technical assistance so the project can be rolled out to 100 per cent of the communities in the forest. This may be an excellent way to prevent impoverished people from participating in illegal forestry,” he added.