Gov’t Recognizes Siem Reap Community Forests

Marking a step forward in Cam­bo­dian forestry reform, the first 10 of Siem Reap province’s 37 community forestry sites have been officially recognized by the government, officials said.

The regional community fores­try project was launched a decade ago by the UN’s Food and Agri­culture Organization in cooperation with the Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Environment. Currently funded by New Zealand, it seeks to help set up forest areas where local communities do the managing as opposed to the state, said Prak Marina, FAO’s national team leader for the project.

Ly Chouveang, provincial forestry ad­ministration chief, on Monday signed the areas’ 10 legal agreements, which “clearly define roles and responsibilities for community members in managing the forest,” including demarcating the forests and patrolling for illegal activity, he said Tuesday. Decentralized man­agement by people who directly benefit from the forests will be more efficient than state control, he said.

Prior to official recognition, community members hesitated to take action against those who abused the forests, and community leaders had little authority with forest crime perpetrators, said Lao Sethephal, community forestry acting chef for the Forestry Administration.

Without legal agreements, community members, he said, “have no real power, no clear border…. It is like the house without a fence.”

Siem Reap province’s remaining 27 community forest areas plan to request agreements within the month, while areas in other prov­inces are preparing the legal documents to submit their own re­quests, he said. The legal agreements bind community members to action, For­estry Administration head Ty So­kun said Wednesday.

Should community members violate the agreements and not use the forest sustainably, the Forestry Administration can suggest a change in leadership, suspend the area’s license or revoke it, he said.

The government’s recognition of community forest areas is the beginning of a larger poverty re­duction movement, he said. “When [community members] own it, they will preserve it, defend it and use it sustainably,” Ty Sokun said.

Amanda Bradley, country director for the NGO Com­mun­ity Fore­s­try International, which is involved in the project, said Tuesday that there are currently around 280 community forest sites in various stages of development countrywide.

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