In the last few years, the Prey Lang forest has come under destruction from logging and large-scale tree plantations. After the Royal Government of Cambodia established the Prey Lang Forest as a protected area in May 2016, people started to hold a little more hope for the conservation of the forest ecosystem.
Social movements and campaigns about Prey Lang, normally not usually seen in the news, got more recognition. It’s undeniable that the forest protection efforts of local people around Prey Lang supported by young people’s campaigns along with the protected area demarcation, played an essential part in protecting the forest from deforestation and raising more awareness about Prey Lang’s value. But despite these efforts, Prey Lang is no longer well-preserved or safe from destruction.
Prey Lang forest is the largest evergreen lowland forest in the Indochina Peninsula. It stretches across four provinces in Cambodia namely Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Kratie. Covering an estimated 3,600 square kilometres, Prey Lang comprises a diversity of ecosystems, including swamp forest, rich biodiversity, and provides significant ecosystem services indispensable for species interaction and the natural food chain. It is home to a range of wildlife species including at least 27 endangered species.
More importantly, Prey Lang forest helps in water management – regulating water and sediment flow to the Tonle Sap basin, controlling the floods in the rainy season from August to September, and replenishing groundwater levels in the dry season.1
The forest is a crucial part of the culture and livelihoods of indigenous people and their social and spiritual traditions. Approximately 200,000 people, particularly indigenous Kui people, depend for their livelihood on collecting tree resin from the forest.2 By collecting resin, cardamom, honey and bamboo, many rural communities can support their families without harming the forest while sustaining natural resources for use by the next generation.
Yet logging, Economic Land Concessions (that result in large-scale tree plantations) and mining projects are now threatening the forest ecosystems, biodiversity, local people’s livelihoods, and the endangered wildlife in this forest. If this destruction continues, many ecosystem services provided by this forest such as production of food and water and the control of climate (including carbon sequestration) will be lost forever. So far, interventions by local people and other groups supporting forest conservation have alleviated the situation somewhat.
While the majority of the Cambodian public remains unaware about Prey Lang, it is the campaigns organized by the community people supported by youth in Cambodia that have helped to raise awareness about forest destruction and the local dependence on the forest. Each night while the rest of Cambodia sleeps, a group of villagers in Prey Lang forest lie in their hammocks and listen warily for the sound of saws of the illegal loggers. The local people live in fear everyday, often facing the dangers of encountering loggers in the forest when they try to collect forest products, and continue to make a huge sacrifice of their time and energy to protect this forest.
Youth campaigns to prevent the destruction of Prey Lang
Young people are making a significant contribution to Prey Lang’s preservation through their active participation to raise more public awareness. Additionally, they have started campaigns targeting decision makers to consider new and more effective mechanisms to ensure that Prey Lang is protected from destruction.
The youth contribution is effective in turning public attention towards forest protection and calling for more effective government policies for forest conservation. So far, youth groups have arranged study trips to the Prey Lang area with support from various organizations. By doing this, young people can engage more with communities and learn about biodiversity, people’s livelihoods, and the value of natural resources. They can then share what they learned from the trips with their peers, relatives and other people through various communication channels including workshops and forums about the preservation and management of thePrey Lang Forest.
Mr. Pi Chey, a member of the Prey Lang Community Network who lives in a village in Preah Vihear province in the Prey Lang area said, “Deforestation in Prey Lang remains a big concern even after it was set up as a protected area. There needs to be strong cooperation from all relevant parties such as the government, civil society and communities to be able to protect Prey Lang because the community alone cannot manage it all.
“Even though local people still see illegal logging occurring in their forest, they never lose hope of being able to protect Prey Lang from bad people.”
As the young people in Cambodia take a more active part in ensuring the protection of this valuable ecological treasure, it also ensures that the future generations will benefit from this ecological treasure.