The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) is a self-organised group of local community members who monitor the forests in the Central Plains of Cambodia. PLCN was developed in response to deforestation, with the purpose to patrol and protect Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary from illegal logging and industrial agriculture. Members of PLCN act independently, designing their own monitoring scheme and carrying out all information gathering and reporting. Information is collected on a smartphone, and brought to the attention of national policy makers as well as the general public via reports and social media. Members receive no external incentives for their efforts and have no formal enforcement power, but they do believe that they are successful in limiting illegal activities in the forest.
Prey Lang forest covers roughly 5000 km2 in the central plains of Cambodia, west of the Mekong river. It is the largest lowland evergreen forest now remaining in the Indochinese Peninsula and is of high ecological, economic and cultural importance, supporting seven distinct forest ecosystems. Around 250,000 people live in Prey Lang and its surrounding areas, with most directly relying on the forest for their livelihoods. Medicine, food, building materials and firewood are all extracted from the forest. Prey Lang is home to two predominant ethnic groups, who are culturally and spiritually linked to their ancestral forests. Prey Lang is also home to over 530 plant species and nearly 400 animal species, many of which are endangered. In May 2016, 432,000 hectares of Prey Lang was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary.
The poaching and wildlife trade problem
Species affected Siamese rosewood Dalbergia cochinchinensis , Timber SpeciesProducts in trade
Illegal logging for timber. According to research, illegal logging in Cambodia is primarily driven by demand from China for rosewood for the furniture industry.
Overview of the problem
Cambodia has one the world’s highest deforestation rates, driven by illegal logging and large-scale acquisitions of land for agro-industrial purposes. The latter is usually in the form of economic land and mining concessions, where large areas of forest are cleared to make way for plantations. Extensive logging also occurs outside of officially granted concession areas and illegal loggers are often poor community members. High value species, such as Siamese Rosewood, are particularly susceptible to illegal logging, much of which is illegal exported to Vietnam.
In 2018, total forest loss (by natural and human cause) in the Wildlife Sanctuary was estimated to be just over 4,500 ha.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, members of PLCN have been unable to enter the forest since February 2020. Since then, the network has noticed an increase in illegal loggers entering Prey Lang leaving with trucks transporting timber. Members have been threatened with arrest if they attempt to enter, with some members detained by guards working for a large agribusiness concession and handed over to the police. PLCN has since used satellite imagery to monitor forest loss, with a study published in April 2020 by PLCN, the University of Copenhagen, the EU Joint Research Centre, and Global Forest Watch, showing an acceleration in illegal logging and forest canopy disturbance since February 2020. For more information, see these articles on Mongabay and Global Witness.
The anti-IWT initiative
As threats to the forest continued, with illegal timber laundered and natural resources destroyed, conflict arose between the local groups wanting to protect the forest and those deriving income from timber extraction. For example, village headmen and local authorities often have a vested economic interest in the logging industry, threatening attempts to stop illegal activities.
Inhabitants of Prey Lang have traditionally patrolled the forest to protect its resources, and in 2001 they organised into a forest monitoring group called the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN). PLCN advocates for forest protection and conservation by collecting and communicating information on illegal activities in the forest. The main activity of PLCN is to undertake peaceful patrols, with groups entering the forest several times a month for 3-4 days at a time.
Sometimes PLCN patrols encounter abandoned equipment and timber, which is then confiscated or left behind and burned. Patrol groups vary in size and cover different sections of Prey Lang, with reports from the field and confiscated equipment sent to the authorities.
If members encounter loggers during patrols, they firstly initiate a peaceful dialogue, before checking whether they have logging permits. If they do not members inform them about the destructive effects of logging on the forest and communities. The illegal loggers are then made to sign a contract stating that they will not continue to take part in such activities, with their names and faces held in a database.
PLCN also began collecting data on an app in 2015 and now has 35 smartphones operating in the forest. The Prey Lang app collects data on illegal logging activities and climate change, as well as the impact this has on biodiversity and local livelihoods. Data analysis is output in reports and communicated to policy makers and the general public.
A representative from each of the four provinces that Prey Lang covers (Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear) form a Steering Committee and there is also an elected core group of 28 network members, as well as 400 active members across the four provinces. All members are volunteers.
Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour
Build/and or support sense of community ownership or stewardship
Has the initiative made a difference?
A survey revealed that active members of PLCN think they are successful in stopping illegal activities they encounter. However, PLCN continue to report rises in illegal activities within the sanctuary. Between June 2018 and 2019, over 5,000 entries were submitted to the Prey Lang database, which when validated responded to 89 illegal activities reported per month.
In general, since the introduction of the app in 2015, PLCN's efficiency has increased, with continued training of members and improved app versions resulting in more and better quality data. Patrols by PLCN have resulted in an extensive source of data on illegal logging activities in Prey Lang, which is highly valuable for national decision and policy-makers, as well as researchers within the field and the general Cambodian public.
What doesn’t work and why
Local authorities and others in power often have vested interest in illegal logging activities and have tried to dissuade members from patrolling the forest. Members are often told they do not have the right to carry out patrols or confiscate equipment or timber.
Furthermore, since 2017 the government's new requirement that the MOE and local authorities are informed of PLCN patrols 3 days before commencement has hindered the ability of the network to undertake patrols and it is thought that illegal loggers are now being tipped off, making the patrols less effective.
Although it appears there has been a general increase in government attention to tackling illegal logging and other forest crimes, there remain concerns about government corruption and collusion with timber traders. Overall though, PLCN appreciate action taken by the National Commission for Crime Prevention and Suppression of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Environment, and other partners, to reduce deforestation and forest crime.
Factors that limited or hindered success
Lack of devolved decision-making power so local communities have a voice in creating or co-creating solutions (as part of the initiative)
Ineffective and unaccountable community-based natural resources management institutions
Organisers, donors and partners
Funders and partners include: Copenhagen University, Alexander Soros Foundation, DANIDA, Web Essentials, International Society for Tropical Foresters (ISTF) Innovation Prize, UNDP Equator Initiative Prize, Energy Globe Award.
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