UNESCO conducts consultations at core areas of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve to strengthen conservation and sustainable livelihoods
UNESCO, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, conducted consultations with local communities and officials at the Boeung Tonle Chhmar and Stung Sen core areas of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve.
Enlisted as part of UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 1997, Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve is an internationally-recognized learning site for sustainable development. The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, enforced by Royal Decree of the Royal Government of Cambodia in 2001, is a unique ecosystem, harbouring rich biodiversity, and providing significant socio-economic and cultural values for Cambodia. It is intricately linked to the Mekong river system, through an annual flood-pulse which causes the Tonle Sap lake to expand nearly four-times its size during the wet season.
The objective of the consultations was to undertake a situation-analysis, and engage with local communities and officials at the core areas of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, to promote conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and sustainable livelihoods development, through a scientific solutions-based approach. During the consultations, the team met with provincial, district and commune leadership, officials from provincial administration, rangers, local police, and members of the local community, including fishermen. Representatives of Institute of Technology of Cambodia, and the Pannasastra University of Cambodia, joined the consultations at the Stung Sen core area, to share scientific insights.
During the interaction with fishermen and members of the Community Protected Area (CPA) in Balot, Peam Bang Commune, the participants indicated that the fish catch has been declining in the last three years due to low level of water in the wet season, flooded forest fires in the dry season, and climate change. Fishing is the primary occupation of communities in and around the core areas, which are increasingly vulnerable due to depleting natural resources.
The Commune administration, in the Boeung Chhmar and Stung Sen core areas, recognized the need to promote alternative livelihoods for communities in the core-areas, including through eco-tourism and nature-based activities such as sustainable beekeeping. The Kampong Thom provincial administration noted that protection of natural resources, strengthened fisheries communities and climate change adaptation, are prioritized as part of the provincial administration plan. However, there is a need to enhance resources and capacities of local officials and stakeholders, to ensure effective implementation of the plan.
During the interaction with Rangers, it was discussed that there is a need to enhance efforts to raise awareness among communities about the unique ecological and socio-economic benefits provided by the core areas, such as maintaining environmental quality, and providing an ecological resource bank. Along with augmenting support for patrolling and monitoring of core areas, it is essential to strengthen coordination mechanisms among different institutions to curb illegal activities, especially in and around the core areas, and strengthen capacities to promote effective co-management practices based on sound scientific-solutions.