With 23 conservation areas and seven national parks, Cambodia would seem to be an eco-trippers paradise. On paper, over 20% of Cambodia is under some form of protection – an impressive figure. But reality belies the illusion: next door to the provincial office of a leading ecotourism coordinator, a restaurant selling bush meat does brisk business. At a stall deep inside the nearby Kirirom National Park the menu includes wild boar.
With little incentive to conserve, local communities surrounding biodiversity-rich areas are driven by sheer economics to indulge in destructive activities. Why work planting rice a whole day for one dollar when a single felled tree can fetch thousands?
“It doesn’t matter if a map says that it’s a protected area, it’s the people who live in a place that really own it. And that’s ultimately what conservation is about – engaging the local community so that they see the incentives and do it themselves,” says Live and Learn’s Regional Program Co-ordinator Jady Smith. Live and Learn is collaborating with conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance to help bring ecotourism to Chi Phat, a village deep within the Cardamom Mountains, which has a unique biosphere under threat from land encroachment and logging.