This Permaculture Project Will Fight Deforestation in Cambodia

It strives to meet people's economic needs, while preserving the rainforest.

view of organic farm in Kampot region of Cambodia

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I am currently in the early stages of the development of a large permaculture design for an ecosystem restoration project, eco-resort, and farm in Cambodia. This project is an attempt to fight back against the illegal logging and devastating deforestation occurring in this region and may be interesting to those with an interest in sustainable ecosystem restoration. 

Cambodia's Challenges

Cambodia has experienced many difficulties and tragedies in recent decades. Today, it is a country sadly endangered by crises on a number of fronts, including intense pressures from illegal logging and the rapid destruction of its precious remaining rainforests. 

As in so many regions around the world, the key to fighting deforestation in the region lies in the engagement with and empowerment of local communities. Planting trees alone will not be enough to stem the tide of ecosystem destruction; rather, a holistic view must be taken. 

Any work taken to conserve, protect, and restore must go hand in hand with work to improve the lives of the local people. It must focus on the needs of people and on the development of strong educational programs that allow people to understand the link between healthy environments, human health, resilience, and economic prosperity.

Deforestation in Cambodia is driven not entirely by greed but by need. Farmers are inevitably drawn by the promise of profits from commodity production. When Western consumers buy, Cambodia's forests are cleared. 

The harsh truth of the matter, however, is that locals may feel they have few other options. That is why it is so important that alternative models for economic, as well as simply intrinsic value, are provided. 

Cambodia has one of the fastest rates of forest loss in the world. Huge areas have been clear-cut in the past decade and destruction continues at a dramatic pace. Tragically, Cambodia has lost about 64% of its tree cover since 2011. 

Unfortunately, it seems that the government cannot be trusted to halt illegal logging. So communities and individuals who wish to stem the destruction must look to take matters into their own hands.

Restoration, Rewilding, Renewal in the Kampot Region

The project I am working on, covering an area of around 250 hectares in the Kampot region of southern Cambodia, is a holistic project which will incorporate large areas of watershed restoration and rewilding. There are two main valleys running through the project focus area. 

The Northern Valley

The northern valley will become the base for ecosystem restoration, and will host an eco-resort, with sustainable bamboo lodges and resort buildings amid permaculture gardens and agroforestry. A dam and reservoirs, pond systems and other earthworks, hydro, wind and solar power, and sustainable systems will be integrated to ensure that the site can sustain ecotourism while also serving to reforest the surrounding landscape. 

This zone will be utilized for the training of locals in sustainability and restoration best practice, and will eventually welcome international visitors who intend to aid with restoration and reforestation on the surrounding hills, as well as enjoy the lush surroundings.

A tree nursery will be established, both to serve this project site and, ultimately, to provide seeds and saplings for other projects in the region.

Watersheds will slowly be replanted (funded through welcoming international visitors and the sale of produce and processed foods) with trees such as Sindora siamensis (a large evergreen tree), Afzelia xylocarpa (a large deciduous tree known as the makha or Cambodian beng tree), Albizia ssp. (paperbark tree), Diospyros ssp. (bushveld bluebush), Dipterocarpus ssp. (another tall evergreen native to Southeast Asia), Syzgium cumini (Malabar plum), Tectona grandis (teak), etc.

The Southern Valley

The larger southern valley, currently in use for local farming, will be rehabilitated and improved—to enhance the environment while also increasing and diversifying yields. A sustainable farm community will be established in the southern valley, with space for processing yields from the farmlands in the valley. It will become not only a place for farmers and workers and their families to live, but also a hub for the dissemination of information and skills to other local farmers and farm workers. 

This project is still in its early stages and there is a lot to be done. But what I hope this project shows is that humanity's needs can align with restoration and the reestablishment of native vegetation. By working closely with local people to meet their economic and personal needs, we can work toward a better future for all.