Program Promotes Living Off Forests, Without Felling Trees

As Cambodia’s tree cover recedes due to legal and illegal logging, people who live off the forests gathered in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to brainstorm ways to improve the fledgling green economy and increase the chances of preserving their local environments.

The forum organized by the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Program (NTFP-EP), which seeks to empower local communities to launch ecofriendly businesses, was attended by Poeuch Ngou, a 31 year-old rubber farmer from the indigenous Kouy community in Mondolkiri province’s Koh Nhek district.

“I think it will help to protect the culture of my community. We can collect rubber from those forests and continue to live a happy life because we feed our lives through the forest,” Mr. Ngou said, adding that he was unsure if the program could halt the forces decimating the country’s forests.

“The project will be helpful for protecting the community forests, but I still have little hope that it will avoid illegal logging,” he said. “I don’t know whether it will safeguard our future, but it is a better strategy for our culture.”

Mr. Ngou was joined Tuesday by other forest-dwellers who make their living off non-timber resources including honey, rattan, bamboo and other resins.

Promoting these small businesses and the products they make is the best chance of creating a viable alternative to felling trees for their timber, said Femy Pinto, executive director of NTFP-EP Asia.

Business standards in green micro-industries are improving, she said, but the next challenge is to develop sustainable business models, improve policies governing such enterprises and market the products more efficiently.

“Markets are being reached. However, the support, skills and resources are still found wanting,” Ms. Pinto said.

For Ith Vun, also a Kouy community member in Mondolkiri, his honey business is enough to live on —for now.

“It’s our opportunity to make product from the forest to sell and also protect the forest, so we don’t have to worry that we will lose the forest in the future,” he said.

“But if we do not still patrol the forest, then the forest will still be lost to illegal logging.”

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