ForumCiv’s three decades in Cambodia

News - 2021-11-05
ForumCiv has supported civil society and democracy for close to three decades in Cambodia since the free elections in -93. Since the days of the Red Khmere rule, the country has reached lower middle-income status, and aiming to reach upper middle-income status by 2030. The country’s economy has kept an average growth rate of 7,7 per cent.

ForumCiv’s programmes have contributed to the development of poverty reduction, and although focus has shifted over the years depending on societal developments, support has always remained with democratic practices and local ownership to enable people and communities’ influence over political decisions and livelihoods.

The biggest programme, The Green Ownership, is estimated to have impacted more than 1 million people and around 271 communities that therethrough received support on organizational strengthening, dialogue and advocacy and natural resource management. This has resulted in communities’ greater ownership over natural resources, food security and increased incomes.

For example, in Save Cambodia’s Wildlife (SCW)’s direct target communities, poverty rate has decreased from 17.6 to 9.5 per cent.

 

Climate change and ecosystems

As a majority of Cambodia’s population live in rural areas, 76 per cent as of 2019, and are dependent on natural resources for their livelihood, to put effort into these communities was and still is a given. Between the years 1996-2020 the country witnessed more than 3,000 floods, according to Khmer Times, and thousands of droughts and hurricanes. This all killed more than 1,000 people, damaged about 3 million hectares of crops and destroyed around 14,700 homes. The impact of climate change is impacting an already vulnerable situation, resulting in for instance less yields and rising food prices.

 

ForumCiv’s long-term support has contributed to improving community livelihood through better access to and control over their natural resources. Conservation projects play a very important role in generating positive attitudes of residents towards sustainable practices of natural resource management and environment, especially among youths. This is achieved by promoting green practices in their tourist services such as reducing plastic use and raising environmental awareness among tourists, waste management and tree planting. Some of the communities’ achievements include:

  • Forest conservation managed by fishery and forestry communities of an area covering 716 thousand hectares, which is estimated to generate a carbon stock that amounts to 42 thousand tons.
  • As a result of advocacy efforts, the committee for local government issued a guideline for planning which include climate change intervention.
  • Intensive fish conservation and protection efforts by 16 communities led to ten types of wild bird species notably increased, among them egrets, pelicans and storks. Some endangered wild animals were also found increased, including python, cobra, tiger cat, white monkey, ferret, and otter.
  • Eight forest conservation areas of 1,222 hectares have increased multi biodiversity species and flooded forests have grown better.

I learnt that my acts could destroy the fishery resources for the whole community and that is the reason that I stopped using illegal fishing equipment. (Meas Ye, who got arrested for illegal fishing but through dialogue and training he became an activist protecting the fish.)

We inform people and authority about the importance of fish and flood forest, challenges and what they can do to protect natural resources. The photos and short videos we produce aim to get attention from people on the problems in the community. (Hor Samath, from a community fishery in Battambang received training on social media, photography and video production and use it to raise funds and awareness to the benefit of nature.)

Minority rights

According to the Cambodian Indigenous People Organization, there are five indigenous groups in Cambodia that face discrimination and persecution which makes development work for indigenous communities particularly important. They are particularly affected by land grabs and deforestation.

ForumCiv has worked together with indigenous minorities and over the years their role and rights have become extensively recognized. They have built strong partnership and increased working collaboration on land registration, address land conflicts and crackdown on illegal activities.

As a result of long-term advocacy on indigenous people rights notable achievements can be highlighted:  

  • The government adopted the Indigenous People’s Conservation and Development Strategic Plan 2020-2023.
  • The Technical Working Group on Conservation and Development for Indigenous People and Environment Impact Assessment unit were also established.
  • The government has initiated amendment of the 2002 land law. The aspiration is that it will strengthen the capacity for indigenous communities to control and defend their territories which are vital for their livelihood.
  • After a two-years joint advocacy effort of affected families by community-based organisations, the Stung Treng provincial authority agreed to compensate 30 hectares land to 17 families whose agriculture land got flooded following a dam construction.
  • Several advocacy actions finally resulted in a high-profile case of land encroachment committed by deputy secretary of Ministry of Justice. Consequently, he was removed from position by the Royal decree, and was ordered to return land to community.

This radio talk programme is a good way of bringing the issues of my community directly to the relevant ministries such as Ministry of Environment. The topic that I discussed is the status of the community protected area where our forested land has been grabbed by an economic land concession company. (Kong Chheang, who belongs to an ethnic monitory in the Kampong Thom province when invited to a radio programme founded for the purpose to spread knowledge on indigenous minorities rights.)

Legal accountability and local ownership

Cambodia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world and this, together with illegal fishing, contaminations, and the establishment of Hydropower dam building at upper Mekong River, is jeopardizing the lives of many people depend on these natural resources. Over the years, several successful advocacy campaigns have been rolled out to protect people and environment:

 
  • Through official registration of organizations of forest and fishery communities, positive steps toward obtaining legally binding forested land titles as well as registration of fishery rights have been made. As result, 56 out of 58 communities have formally been registered, which allows them to legally protect and govern the areas.
  • Advocacy campaigns has resulted in that the government has made a fishery structural management reform. The new structure has put the fishery administration at the provincial level to be under supervision of provincial department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
  • Through social media monitoring communities have managed to share cases of illegal lodging which has resulted in the crackdown of three big cases of forest crimes. One case led to an arrest of three forestry administration officials in 2019.
  • The increased community participation in fishery management resulted in more effective law enforcement against illegal fishing, flooded forest clearance and land encroachment.

The spillway is important in generating community incomes for more than 150 people including 40 women; most of the women are directly benefitting from the eco-tourism. It was prioritised as the main part ensuring sustainable eco-tourism. (Chhoeun Sody, Community leader from Changkran Roy community forestry after the community successfully lobbied local authorities who built the water gate.)

With increased technical capacity our confidence grew. The purpose of the exercise was fulfilled when we could secure funding for eco-tourism sites in our forest community. (Sram Touch, financial officer at Changkran Roy Forest community speaking to how financial training earned their CBO independence.)

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