Monks Community Forest
Published November 2018
The Monks Community Forest (MCF) is an 18,261 ha stretch of evergreen forest in northwest Cambodia. MCF was created in response to deforestation from economic concessions, illegal logging, and land encroachment. Initiated by Buddhist monk Venerable Sun Baluthhe, the monks of the Samraong Pagoda acquired legal protection of the forest, and have since established patrol teams, demarcated forest boundaries, raised environmental awareness among local communities, organized community patrol volunteers, developed co-management committees with local villagers, linked with government authorities and NGOs, established Cambodia’s largest community forest, attracted external support for patrolling, and significantly reduced illegal logging activities.
Monks Community Forest is 18,261 ha of primary forest that provides a dense evergreen and semi-evergreen canopy cover in the Oddar Meanchey Province, Cambodia, and is the country's largest community-managed forest conservation site.
The poaching and wildlife trade problem
Species affected Timber SpeciesProducts in trade
Overview of the problem
Deforestation by illegal logging.
The anti-IWT initiative
The main purpose of the project is to protect forests and conserve biodiversity for future generations.
In 2001, in response to the unrelenting deforestation of Cambodia's forests, the Buddhist monk Venerable Bun Saluth initiated the protection of a forest in northwest Cambodia. Renamed the 'Monks Community Forest' (MCF), Bun Saluth quickly had volunteers from his pagoda and the local community help deliver his vision. These people organised themselves into patrols to monitor the forest to reduce illegal activity. Soon after, the monks of the pagoda acquired legal protection of the forest, established patrol teams made up of volunteers, distinguished forest boundaries, developed co-management committees (which included local villagers), collaborated with government authorities and NGOs, attracted external funding, and raised awareness of the need for protection. The MCF became the country's largest community forest and forest crime abated.
In addition, MCF is one of thirteen community forests involved in Cambodia’s first REDD carbon offset projects.
Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour
Forest patrols are a key strategy. Patrol teams were established using community volunteers, who are unarmed and treat offenders without anger using a soft approach to enforcement. Furthermore, women are encouraged to alert the patrol teams of any suspicious activity while collecting non-timber forest products. Food may be given in exchange for patrolling services.
Part of the strategy is to highlight the intimate role that nature played in Buddha's life in order to cultivate a conservation ethic amongst local communities.
Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship
One of the main purposes of the project is to maintain access to forest resources that benefit community livelihoods. Although logging and hunting are prohibited within the protected area, villagers can fish using traditional methods, collect old timber for materials for their shelters, and harvest non-timber forest products such as bamboo, wild ginger, fruit and mushrooms. Villagers usually collect these for subsistence use and for traditional medicines but will also sell some products in local markets.
Build/and or support sense of community ownership or stewardshipFurther detail
Villagers are keen to participate in project activities because they recognise the benefits to their livelihoods and in particular women have been encouraged to participate.
Community Forestry Management Committees (CMFC) have been developed as the main body managing the MCF, consisting of five monks, one female villager and three male villagers. Sitting under the CMFC are sub-committees who are responsible for leading other villages to patrol the MCF and report back. In addition, the CFMC is responsible for developing strategic plans as well as administrative and budgetary work.
Improving education and awarenessFurther detail
At the heart of the monks' environment action and awareness-raising campaigns are key Buddhist teachings, which emphasise the intimate role nature played in Buddha's life. Villagers help to spread awareness within their communities about the need to protect the forest as well as undertake patrols to reduce forest crimes.
Has the initiative made a difference?
Over 3,700 people from six villages - the vast majority of which are poor farmers - participate and benefit from MCF activities. MCF provides resources, benefits and services such as shelter, subsistence crops, and commercial products. Furthermore, participants have been empowered to have a voice in the management of the forest through the committees and sub-committees in each village.
Both patrolling and awareness-raising activities have significantly reduced incidents of forest crime including logging, hunting and land clearing, and is helping to safeguard the area’s biodiversity.
External funding also provided emergency rice supplies for poor families, assisted them to bring non-timber forest products to market in more cost-effective ways, and provided them with food in exchange for patrolling services.
What works and why
Having the monks instigate the initiative proved to be invaluable for gaining community support and together, the monks and local people are protecting the forest. Increasing environmental stewardship from the monastic community is actively channelling Buddhist principles to help society and monks have empowered communities to take protection of the natural resources they depend upon. This has cultivated a conservation ethic amongst communities living near the MCF and villagers now see forest protection as benefitting them both spiritually and materially.
Factors for success
Effective and trusted community leaders
Because of their role in Khmer society as moral and spiritual leaders, the involvement of monks in the management and patrolling of the MCF brought legitimacy to forest protection, serving as a powerful deterrent to forest crime. Monks are respected in Cambodia, where the majority of the population is Buddhist and villagers have been motivated by the monks’ efforts to protect the forest and wish to participate themselves.
Organisers, donors and partners
Buddhism for Development (BFD)
Community Forestry International (CFI)
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