Monks promote community forests in Cambodia
ARC’s sister organization, the Association of Buddhists for the Environment (ABE), has been very active in introducing the concept of community forests in Cambodia. It is a unique effort to protect natural resources through Buddhist teachings and environmental education.
For example one of the highest-ranking and influential monks in Kampong Leg district of Kampong Chhnang province, Venerable Van Sokhim, has been elected chief of Porchrok Chumrok Buddhisen Community Forestry with the support of local monks, villagers and local authorities. At the heart of Kampong Chhnang is Kangrey Mountain, or the history-teller’s mountain. By making this the center of the Community Forestry project, the Sangha, or community of monks and nuns, established a clear connection between the forest and history and tradition that unites the Cambodian people.
About 14,000 hectares have been identified for protection in this area.
Another remarkable feature of this project is the role the local people play in preserving the forest’s natural resources—every villager contributes 100 riels per month. It is hoped that this community forest, blessed by its magnificent natural beauty, will soon attract large numbers of visitors leading to many commercial opportunities for the local people. This illustrates how community forestry can provide a commercial base for locals without cutting down a single tree. It also shows how monks and local people can actively work together to protect and manage the environment.
The biggest issue that arises is that of forest fires, which occur yearly during the dry season from January to April. Previously, there was not much involvement from local villagers because of their own responsibilities on their farms during this season. However, since ABE started the environmental education pagodas project in January 2006, the local community has become increasingly active in forest fire protection. The monks are guiding local villagers around the pagodas, helping them to understand, protect and improve their environment. ABE has also organized meetings with the Community Forestry Committee and monks to initiate forest fire protection teams.
Despite some difficulties encountered during the project’s implementation, ABE has experienced great success. Religious leaders have become active participants in stakeholder discussions and have effectively encouraged local people to become involved in the project. Additionally, religious leaders have influenced peoples’ perspectives on biodiversity conservation through education. The success of this project is largely due to the hard work and commitment of local monks and villagers, as well as the support of local authorities, organizations and donors. The willingness to conserve and use natural resources suitably is essential for the next generation living around this mountain, but it is also in line with the Buddha’s teachings.
Adapted from a paper given by Venerable Hiek Sopheap, Executive Director of ABE, at Visby’s Faith and Forestry Gathering.
Link here for the first page of the ABE's brochure on caring for the environment through Buddhism.
Link here for the second page of the ABE's brochure on caring for the environment through Buddhism.
The ABE video
PART ONE: with an introduction to the Buddhist sense of being interconnected, and the role of the belief in Universal Origin in understanding better the human role in relation to the rest of life.
PART TWO: including a description of the Oddar Mincheay monks restoring their ancient forest and a visit to KorngRey Mountain, accessible only by boat, and a place that the Buddhist community, or sangha, is now taking more responsibility for.
PART THREE: an interview with one of the key monks at KorngRey explaining the obstacles, including forest fires and people treating the forest in a utilitarian manner, and the conditions necessary for protecting the land.
PART FOUR: Includes details of the network and how it has expanded from 6 to 30 pagodas, and the importance of surveying the forest. Plus a visit to Angkor Wat, a place of inspiration for Cambodian people, and a reflection of how Buddha was born in the forest, taught in the forest and received enlightenment in the forest.