Development and the Environment

A new project, initiated by UNDP with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has been launched in Cambodia in order to better integrate biodiversity conservation into tourism, forestry, agriculture, fishing, and hunting.

Currently, In the northern plains of Cambodia, biodiversity faces threats from overexploitation, in particular from uncontrolled commercial hunting, logging, and destructive fishing practices. Rural communities depend on ecosystem goods and services as a means for financial sustenance, and as biodiversity comes under threat from the overexploitation, the survival and well-being of the communities are left at risk.

In partnership with the Royal Government of Cambodia and Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC), the UNDP and the GEF are utilizing the project to promote eco-tourism initiatives that generate income for local communities. One project that is part of the initiative is the Tmatboey project, which focuses on a community-managed approach to eco-tourism. The northern plains of Cambodia play host to a community of large mammals and wetland birds that are found nowhere else in the world. By using the endangered and extremely rare giant and White-shouldered ibis birds as a tourist attraction, the program has established a local tourism enterprise that is using the revenue as an incentive for the local community to protect the wildlife.

WCS drew up land-use guidelines. Locals agreed not to hunt the birds, and in return, they would receive assistance with developing tourism. Yin Sary, a former poacher who now works as a tour guide in the Tmatboey project, said, “Eating a bird, I can only fill my family’s stomach once, but guiding tourists to see the bird I get $5 each time. Our community is earning thousands of dollars showing the same birds over and over again.”

With the Tmatboey project, WCS and local NGO partners established a training program for community members that taught them how to work as a tour guide and maintain accommodations. As tourism bookings increased more than 25% annually over the first four years, there were major reductions in the hunting and trade of wildlife species. The income that the village has received from tourism has benefitted the entire community, through investments in community development projects, agricultural support, road improvements and the construction of new wells.

As a result of its huge success, the Tmatboey Ibis project won the Wild Asia Foundation’s prize as the best community-based eco-tourism initiative. Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment has subsequently requested that another six sites be sourced and developed for nature-based tourism.

– Chloe Isacke

Sources: UNDP, WCS
Photo: The Richest