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SEA Globe. Sustainable Tourism • DECEMBER 23, 2019
Top read: With the number of visitors to Angkor Wat severely dropping this year, Cambodia’s tourism industry, so vital to the economy, is in danger of becoming reliant on Chinese gambling dollars in Sihanoukville. In search of alternatives, we return to a piece from 2009 looking at Cambodia's then budding ecotourism industry. Could green be the answer to the Kingdom's tourism woes?
By Sam Campbell
With 23 conservation areas and seven national parks, Cambodia would seem to be an eco-trippers paradise. On paper, over 20% of Cambodia is under some form of protection – an impressive figure. But reality belies the illusion: next door to the provincial office of a leading ecotourism coordinator, a restaurant selling bush meat does brisk business. At a stall deep inside the nearby Kirirom National Park the menu includes wild boar.
With little incentive to conserve, local communities surrounding biodiversity-rich areas are driven by sheer economics to indulge in destructive activities. Why work planting rice a whole day for one dollar when a single felled tree can fetch thousands?
“It doesn’t matter if a map says that it’s a protected area, it’s the people who live in a place that really own it. And that’s ultimately what conservation is about – engaging the local community so that they see the incentives and do it themselves,” says Live and Learn’s Regional Program Co-ordinator Jady Smith. Live and Learn is collaborating with conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance to help bring ecotourism to Chi Phat, a village deep within the Cardamom Mountains, which has a unique biosphere under threat from land encroachment and logging.
In the cool shade beneath one of Koh Kong’s new bridges, a wooden boat waits to pick up passengers. Squatting on his haunches in the prow, 32-year-old Dam Miet is one of those the project aims to help. He was positive, saying he is always happy to see tourists, as they can provide an alternate livelihood. “I like them a lot,” he smiled. “The more foreigners that come here, the better it will be for us.”
The dense mangroves are interspersed with swaying meadows and thatch huts. However bucolic and picturesque the scene may be, the agricultural clearance that has followed in the wake of massive logging presents a grave threat to this irreplaceable trove of biodiversity. Just a few kilometres away, thousands of hectares of forest have been torched to make way for a sugarcane plantation.
With little incentive to conserve, local communities surrounding biodiversity-rich areas are driven by sheer economics to indulge in destructive activities.
Between the Scylla of the landless poor and the Charybdis of Asia’s insatiable agro-industry, is there any hope? “It’s really about community incentives,” said Jady. “In the battle between conservation and development, it’s taken a long time to understand that if you want to conserve something, don’t put barriers up; give the local community incentives to manage that area.”
Any project that relies on outside input could be seen as ultimately unsustainable, he added, a situation the Chi Phat project wants to avoid.
Full article: https://southeastasiaglobe.com/the-eco-option/
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