Behind Cambodia’s big bet on REDD+ projects

Cambodia's leaders are anxious to prove to the world that the forest conservation mechanism can address climate change while providing opportunities for people to thrive in a “new Cambodia”. But there are concerns about greenwash, and observers point to how such projects can end up being a guise for illicit land grabbing by ruling elites.

Mohammed Venot remembers when Suwanna Gauntlett of Wildlife Alliance came to his home in the middle of the Southern Cardamom Mountains in 2003. The chief executive of the international conservation non-profit had wanted to personally invite Mohammed to join a new community agriculture development project that the group was launching in Cambodia.

It was an enticing offer, and Mohammed recalled it did not take much convincing for him to agree to it. A plot of land of 1.5 hectares (ha) was promised, a proper irrigation system would be installed and Mohammed and his family would get training from professional agronomists to grow their own crops on the new site, in exchange for conservation of the forest land he was then farming on.

Gauntlett also pledged that Wildlife Alliance would work with a mine removal agent to clear landmines in the area, which still posed a risk to locals, including farmers like Mohammed who might lose their limbs to these leftover explosives. “I decided to join immediately,” said the 66-year-old.

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