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From loggers to protectors

Posted Date: 2017-08-29

Community-based ecotourism has become a popular tool for promoting inclusive growth and creating new sources of income for villagers that can also help to protect natural assets such as forests and biodiversity, 

Ecotourism in Cambodia involving communities, with areas of outstanding natural beauty and special interest such as forests, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife as popular travel destinations, has grown rapidly over the past decade.

It is a form of ecotourism that does not damage social, environmental and cultural systems of the community.

Chambok commune, located in Phnom Sruoch district, Kampong Speu province is the poster child of community-based ecotourism in the country with its homestay for tourists who want to visit the spectacular, more than 40-metre high, waterfall located in an old-growth forest and visit bat caves in the area.

This commune is adjacent to Kirirom National Park, one of the popular national parks in Cambodia, and comprises Krang Chek, Beng, Thmei and Chambok villages.

Farmer Hout Khem, in Beng village, is one of those villagers who have opened up their homes to tourists.

As she served morning tea to her overnight guests, she told Khmer Times that it was her daily ritual if her family was putting up tourists.

“I normally have foreign tourists stay in my place at least four times a month,” said Ms Khem, who also works as a local tour guide. Each tourist normally pays $4 a night to lodge in Ms Khem’s village home, with extra charges if they want home-cooked meals.

The Chambok community-based ecotourism (CBET) project was established in 2003 with the initiative and support from the European Union-supported Mlup Baitong.

A management committee consisting of elected residents was nominated in order to operate the Chambok CBET project. Its objectives are to protect forests and natural resources, to provide an alternative income to poverty-stricken and forest product-dependent communities, and to educate the residents and visitors about environmental conservation.

“The homestay service provides additional income to villagers,” said Om Sophana, Mlup Baitong’s executive director.

“It helps them supplement their main income from agriculture. They also have stopped cutting down trees in the forest and hunting wildlife for trade and have come together to protect the environment,” he added.

“From loggers to protectors of an old growth forest is the best way to describe these villagers.”

Mr Sophana said around 500 households are members of Chambok’s CBET project and besides the homestays they could earn money from entrance fees to the community forest, vehicle-parking fees, selling souvenirs and nursery plants and services provided to tourists such as ox-cart driving, bicycle rental and tourist gazebos catering.

“Chambok’s model shows that the villagers’ perceived improvement of their livelihoods were likely to influence support of the CBET project, which primarily depends on conserving the forest,” he added.

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