250,000 people rely on forest products in the area

Cambodian villagers best placed to prevent illegal logging

A study into deforestation in Cambodia has found that forests are better protected when villagers are given the responsibility to manage them locally.

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, losing 1.2 per cent each year from 2005-2010. The loss of forests due to illegal logging and other factors can have a devastating impact on local communities, as well as contributing to global climate change.

Research by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford looked at how effective community forestry is in reducing deforestation and supporting livelihoods in the Prey Long forest area of Cambodia.

Community forestry entrusts local people to look after and manage forests, with the aim of producing social and economic benefits for them whilst maintaining and improving the condition of the land.

The study, funded by the ADM Capital Foundation and published in the latest issue of Conservation Biology, assessed the effectiveness of community forestry by comparing nine locally managed sites with paired controls in state production forests.

Researchers discovered that sites maintained by locals had fewer signs of man-made damage such as cut stems, stumps and burned trees. There were also more regenerating stems, a higher aboveground biomass and reduced canopy openness.

The research also showed that community forestry was most effective where the community relied on forest products to support themselves.

Dr Dan Bebber, of Biosciences at the University of Exeter, said: “There is a long history of community forestry in South Asia, but relatively few studies that directly compare the ecological consequences of community-managed forests to its alternatives. We found that the capacity of locals to manage the forest are significant and of interest to national and international policy makers because of the potential contribution to reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation.”

Lead author Frances Lambrick, of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford, said: “In Cambodia, Community forestry means that local people are able to decide how they manage and use their forest, although the government maintains considerable control. Villagers form patrols that go out and protect the forests, confiscating chainsaws and reporting on illegal logging. Giving local people more say in managing their forests helps reduce deforestation, even in Cambodia with its high overall deforestation rate.”

The Prey Long landscape covers 520,000 hectares of lowland evergreen forest and is home to 80% of Cambodia’s economically valuable and endangered endemic tree species. Approximately 250,000 people live in 340 villages in the area and are heavily reliant on forest products as a source of income.

Date: 13 January 2014

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