Community Groups Unite to Protect Cambodia’s Fishery and Forestry Sectors
July 21, 2010
Just months ago, Choeung would never have dreamt of speaking in public. If told that he would speak in front of more than 300 people, including high-ranking officials, several deputy governors from seven provinces, and an under secretary of state, he would have laughed at such a good joke, and his fellow fishermen would have as well. But that was months ago, when Choeung and his colleagues from the community fishery of Stung Kambot in Kampong Thom province gathered for the first time to discuss constraints they faced in their fishing activities and how they could organize themselves to engage with the public sector and find ways to improve their businesses.
Early this month – less than nine months later – no one thought of laughing when Choeung took the microphone and stood in front of the large audience assembled in the Kampong Thom Provincial Hall. The occasion was a Cross Provincial Workshop, organized by The Asia Foundation in partnership with Oxfam Great Britain and local NGOs as part of the Foundation’s Civil Society and Pro-Poor Market Program (CSPPM). The program brings rural community groups together to discuss how to navigate obstacles that limit access to certain natural resources that they rely on for their jobs, while emphasizing responsible management of these resources and diversifying livelihood opportunities at the same time.
On stage, Choeung explained how his local fishery Community Based Organization (CBO) had worked together with public authorities to implement a fishery law to prohibit fishing groups from using illegal nets to fish in protected areas. Choeung explained that his CBO convened several meetings, first among themselves, then with key public authorities at the commune, district, and finally the provincial level to raise ongoing issues that have prevented them from improving their livelihood.
Prior to this workshop, “the members of my CBO did not know exactly where they could go fishing,” says Choeung. “They were helpless when some fishermen violated the fishery law and destroyed their fishing resources. It was very difficult for us to ask for intervention from the public sector when there was an encroachment into our community fisheries territory. We are better informed now. We participate in commune and province-level Public-Private Dialogues that give us great opportunities to talk directly with the public officials and work with them to solve common issues.”
Challenges still exist, but a recently-signed agreement, which states clear fishing boundaries for the protected area, as well as authorized fishing equipment that can be used, between Choeung’s officially-registered CBO and the Fishery Administration Cantonment to formalize their cooperation marks a significant step. Now, when boats using environmentally damaging nets enter the protected area, the community fishermen may alert the authorities who have committed to take action against such illegal fishing. The Fishery Inspectorate also gave mobile phones to Choeung and other officially-registered fishery communities so that they can call the Cantonment when they encounter illegal fishing activities.
At the workshop, H.E. Vann Phany, chief inspector of the Fishery Administration, emphasized key elements in solving the conflict between the community fisheries and some commercial fishing groups.
“My strategy in mediating the conflict between the communities and some commercial fishing groups was to talk to all parties and look for compromises on both sides,” he says.
This dialogue and mediation proved to be quite successful. As part of the program’s activities, several other CBOs became officially registered and similar agreements were signed. As a result, many fishing communities noted during the workshop that according to their estimates, illegal fishing violations have been reduced by more than 50 percent in the last few weeks.
Mon, from a forestry CBO in Kampong Thom that has recently been registered with the Forestry Cantonment, shared a similar experience of the benefits of being officially recognized.
“Having our forestry community legally recognized by the Forestry Administration is like a citizen having an identity card. We feel we can better enjoy our rights and protect our trees. We can ask for intervention from public officials when there is illegal cutting in our community area. We can save our resources for future generations.” A CBO member from the audience reacted to this declaration by asking “We have been trying to register for many months now, but we have not been successful. How did you do it?”
For Choeung, Mon, and the other members of the fishery and forestry communities from the seven provinces represented at the workshop (Kampong Thom, Kratie, Stung Treng, Mondulkiri, Preah Vihear, Kampong Cham, and Pursat), this marked the first time they had the opportunity to discuss their business issues with people from neighboring provinces. It was also the first time they had a chance to talk with high-level officials from the provincial and national levels. According to these community members, never before had they felt that the public sector was interested in their experience and willing to listen seriously to them.
Véronique Salze-Lozac’h is The Asia Foundation’s Regional Director for Economic Programs in Cambodia and Khut Inserey is the Foundation’s Senior Program Officer there. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.
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