Mean Rith commune in Sandan district, Kampong Thom province is part of the Prey Long Forest, one of the largest remaining natural forest areas in Cambodia covering 3,600 square kilometer in Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kampong Cham, Kratie and Stung Treng provinces in northern Cambodia. While the Royal Government of Cambodia is still discussing to preserve the forest as a Protected Area, the forest is under threat: Large scale agribusiness plantations and mining operations are cutting away at the forest, including sensitive core areas, led by short-term economic interests, not caring for the long-term well-being of the nation and the people living and depending on the forest. Illegal logging for timber, including luxury wood, is rampant, depriving communities of the resin trees they depend on. It is estimated that up to 250,000 resin trees have been lost to chainsaws. These illegal activities are often conducted by powerful people and migrants from other provinces.
In 2009, the Mean Rith Commune Council (CC), senior villagers and groups of villagers called for support from NGOs to establish a Community Forestry (CF) in order to protect their forest and use it in a sustainable way. Mlup Baitong (MB) studied the situation of 3 villages in the commune and discussed with them opportunities of support. In 2010, MB received funds from EU to support CF establishment. MB facilitated Ou Kranhuong villagers to establish the Ou Kranhung CF site. On June 29, 2013, the Ou Kranhung CF agreement with 1,131 hectares of forestland was signed by Forestry Administration Cantonment (FAC) and Community Forest Management Committee (CFMC). This allows CF management council (CFMC) and CF members to manage their CF site.
The CFMC successfully organized patrols of the CF site to reduce illegal logging. But the people were much concerned that they could not sustain the patrols because of insufficient funding after the end of the financial support by the donor. Therefore MB cooperated with Winrock to fund the establishment of a Sustainable Community Environment and Livelihood Improvement project in June 2014. The project supported the CFMC to develop a CF Management Plan (CFMP) and encouraged CFMC members to establish a revolving fund. Ou Kranhung CF site members, who engage in the process of CF establishment, received support of USD 7 per day (opportunity cost) from the project for their work. They agreed to deposit USD 3 of this allowance to the CFMC revolving fund, to be used for micro credit services by the members for small-business development and the funding of their CF activities.
Meanwhile the revolving fund is operating successfully. Members saved a capital of USD 939 from September 2014 to January 2015 and provided 6 loans to farmers with an interest rate of 3%. The loans amounted to a total of USD 862 and enabled the farmers to start small-scale business projects to improve their livelihood. Thus the fund created USD 77 income from interest, which was used to fund CF patrolling/networking meetings and CF administration.
The CFMC is very satisfied with the result of their revolving fund, because it is providing the CFMC and CF members with access to loans for improving their business and a sustainable income for their CF site. “We are very happy that we will have own funds to continue our important activities to protect our forest for us and future generations”, said Mr. Chea Duon, the chairman of Ou Kranhung CF, proudly.
The Ou Kranhung CF site is sharing their success of self-support with other CF sites in their commune. MB is planning to replicate this self-financing concept of CF revolving funds in other CFs to empower them to build up their capacities and capital in order to sustain activities after the phase-out of the project.