2177 - Establishing Conservation Areas Landscape Management in the Northern Plains of Cambodia

2177 - Establishing Conservation Areas Landscape Management in the Northern Plains of Cambodia
Photo: Eleanor Briggs

Context
The remote Northern Plains of Cambodia are an important repository of biodiversity: a refuge for key populations of 40 species on the IUCN Red List, including six critically endangered species. The Plains provide habitat for a host of globally threatened waterbirds in the wet season, serve as a breeding ground for others, and house an array of globally threatened raptors and mammals. The key threat to this biodiversity is overexploitation, particularly from the uncontrolled commercial hunting of large mammals, the logging of forests, and the destructive fishing practices. These threats all relate to the unsustainable, production sectors, operating across the Northern Plains: agriculture, wildlife trade, non-timber forest product (NTFP) collection, timber production and fishing.

Description
The GEF-funded project, known as CALM, addresses the problem of escalating biodiversity loss across the Northern Plains landscape through a three-pronged approach: (1) the introduction of biodiversity considerations into provincial level land use management processes; (2) the demonstration of specific mainstreaming interventions at four key sites (including community land-use tenure, community contracts, and incentives for biodiversity supportive land-use practices); and (3) the strengthening of biodiversity management by the government at the four key sites. Focusing on these four areas within the Northern Plains, the project is integrating biodiversity conservation objectives into relevant sectors, including tourism, forestry, agriculture, fishing and hunting in an area covering 550,000 ha. Partners in the implementation of this project include the Royal Government of Cambodia and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Results
This project has made, and is continuing to make, significant positive contributions to both the biodiversity and people of the Northern Plains. Poor rural communities make up the majority of the people inhabiting the Northern Plains. Stemming from the project's work, jobs have been created in a new community wildlife monitoring system funded through receipts from ecotourism. Additionally, the project has had several successes in terms of conservation impacts. Its work on identifying key conservation areas in the Northern Plains has led to the establishment of Preah Vihear Protected Forest, which has a total area of 112,616 ha. Management plans for that protected area were developed by the project, and are currently being reviewed by government officials. Other specific accomplishments include:

Securing land tenure. The project has effectively engaged local government and forest authorities in biodiversity management. Both the local government and communities have become involved in conservation planning due to the project's interventions. Four villages have improved tenure security, as a result of these interventions, linked to conservation outcomes. Seven additional villages are participating in the land use planning process, which will lead to the establishment of set-asides for biodiversity conservation while defining tenure rights. By engaging the local communities in the sustainable use of the Plains' biodiversity, the project helps to secure the continued provision of the ecosystem services on which these communities, and the wider population, depend.

Creating sustainable alternative livelihoods. Incentive schemes developed by the project are benefiting people in eight villages, while allowing for improved land and biodiversity management by those communities. For example, individual contracts are in place for 100 families for nest protection, 350 families benefit from ecotourism through payments for services, 30 families have signed agreements to carry out wildlife-friendly agriculture, and 140 families benefit from cooperative development. Many other families now practice sustainable resin-tapping and furniture-making. In addition to directly improving the welfare of those families, these changes to local livelihoods indirectly benefit the larger community by protecting the ecosystem services supplied by this important landscape. The project will develop a clear strategy to ensure sustainable financing of these schemes beyond the life of the project.

Market innovation. In 2009, the project successfully introduced an innovative approach that adds value to conservation-friendly rice. Marketed as Ibis Rice, this biodiversity-friendly product sells at a premium, bringing higher incomes to 40 local families thus far. The project provides local communities with an incentive to engage in conservation by offering farmers a premium price for their rice if they agree to follow conservation agreements designed to protect the rare waterbirds and other species that inhabit the protected areas. These agreements are enforced by a locally elected natural resource management committee, which is composed of representatives from the villagem, and thus guarantees a high degree of local ownership of the scheme. Since the majority of the inhabitants of rural communities in Cambodia are engaged in rice farming, the scheme has the potential to benefit a high proportion of the population within each village. A number of hotels and restaurants catering to foreign visitors have bought the rice; this model could be highly replicable in Cambodia and elsewhere.

Reduced illegal hunting and logging. Through improved monitoring and more effective patrol activities, the project has helped to reduce illegal logging in the Northern Plains. At the same time, the project has reduced illegal hunting by revising the patrol strategy and tactics. By making such improvements to the management of these threats to biodiversity, the project helps to protect the forests and wildlife of the Northern Plains' and the ecosystem services that they provide. For example, the project recently had a significant conservation success in terms of one of its indicator species when monitoring by project staff found a record-high population of white-shouldered ibis. The project also tracks the changes in the numbers of bird nests, and in other species populations, all of which indicate that the project is having a positive impact.