First Person

Postcard from Cambodia: Good news in the fight for the forest

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Nu Vanen, 42, gathers wild mushrooms, bamboo, and other edible plants in the O’Koki Community Protected Area near her home in Ratanakiri province, in northern Cambodia. Photo by Patrick Brown/Panos for Oxfam America.

Communities struggle to protect their land and forest, one small piece at a time.

Over the last seven years I’ve made periodic trips to Cambodia to document Oxfam’s work to help people to defend their land rights, particularly in areas of the northern-most province, Ratanakiri. Many of the stories are rather sad: People describe outsiders, working with highly placed people in the capital, showing up with little warning and knocking down thousands of acres of forest. It’s usually considered a violation of international laws requiring permission of local people, as well as a violation of Cambodian land laws.

But there are some hopeful stories too: Indigenous groups and others are fighting back, filing for communal land rights to protect their forest and agricultural lands, and even bringing in the World Bank to hold loan recipients responsible for violating the rights of local people.

On my last trip I found another positive story: A community that witnessed huge areas of forest suddenly taken from them worked with the Ministry of the Environment, and protected an important remaining forest area for the future. The call it the O’Koki Community Protected Area.

You can see photos and hear me talk about it in this audio postcard. It shows what communities can achieve if they get the right support—and that your interest and contributions are making a difference.

Postcard from Cambodia

Hi, Chris Hufstader here. I’m one of Oxfam’s writers in the US.  I want to report back to you about how your support helped a community I visited in Cambodia recently.

I went to a place called Village 2 in Cambodia’s northern Ratanakiri province. The people there told me they had lost 200,000 acres of forest when the government granted a concession to a Vietnamese company that cut down the forest and planted rubber trees.

The people I met in Village 2 told me that this was a huge loss for them: They used to hunt, fish, and gather mushrooms and other food in this forest, so they really suffered when it all got cut down.

An organization called Save Cambodia’s Wildlife (funded by a grant from Oxfam) helped the village work with the Ministry of Environment, to conserve a remaining 4,675-acre forest area. They call it the O’Koki Community Protected Area.

You can see in this photo the plantation is on the left, and the edge of O’Koki is to the right.

O’Koki is one of about seven of these community protected areas in northern Cambodia that your support for Oxfam has made possible. It’s about 15 miles from Village 2, and it’s hard to get there on the rough roads crisscrossing the plantation, but the people I met from Village 2 are happy to have it and protect it.

People in Village 2 tell me that they derive considerable economic benefits from forest areas like O’Koki. Several of the women I spoke with told me that if they need money they can always spend a day gathering mushrooms they can sell in local markets.

One of them was Nu Vanen, who you can see in these photos. She says she used to tap trees near her home for resin, a valuable raw material for making lacquer. When the plantation cut down all the trees near her home, she says her income dropped considerably. She and her friend Man Da come to O’Koki to gather mushrooms and other wild food.

Man Da says this sort of foraging is an important source of extra income for women, so she wants to protect the forest for her daughter, Srey Em, to enjoy in the future.

Man Da reminded me of something else:  Cutting down tropical forests is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, so when you help people protect their forest resources, it is actually good for all of us.

That’s it! I just wanted to tell you about O’Koki, because your support for Oxam is helping people protect the natural resources on which they depend, and it’s a big victory for the people of Village 2 to have this forest. I just want to thank you for helping make this work possible. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+