As part of our ongoing due diligence, in April CGP’s Chief Impact Officer Charles Bedford travelled to Cambodia to visit the Keo Seima forest protection project. Here, Charles reports back on his findings.
The Keo Seima REDD+ project has been operational for about 10 years and protects close to 300,000 hectares of biodiverse forest in the east of Cambodia. It’s a cooperation between global e-NGO the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Ministry of Environment of the Government of Cambodia and the Bunong indigenous people. Other partners, NGOs and local businesses are engaged in a variety of innovative ways, including ecotourism, alternative livelihoods, education and healthcare. Primary threats are deforestation from illegal logging and land clearing, as well as poaching for the illegal wildlife trade.
The project highlights the importance of carbon finance in sustaining forest conservation. For carbon sequestration and avoided emissions, as well as conservation, to be sustainable, annual revenues from carbon finance (i.e., carbon credit sales) must outcompete revenues from illegal logging, poaching, agricultural conversion and land grabbing/speculation.
This project is a world-leading example of carbon markets in practice, with outstanding biodiversity co-benefits alongside transparent and fair community benefit sharing.
The Bunong people
The cultural and natural heritage values at Keo Seima are unique. The Bunong people are estimated population of 33,000, of whom 12,000 live inside the park. They are one of the very few remaining nomadic forest-dwelling people on the planet, living a lifestyle that dates back into prehistory. The Bunong saying, “there is no forest without the Bunong, and no Bunong without the forest,” profoundly and poignantly captures what is at stake for this old civilization. Keo Seima offers a good example of transparency in project disclosure and a good model for benefit sharing generally.
The flora and fauna are also unique and imperiled. Of particular note is the number of endangered and endemic primates in the project area and connected to other populations in Vietnam and to the north in Cambodia in other protected areas. The remaining populations of Black Shanked Doucs and Yellow Cheeked Gibbons (two species of endangered primates) are found mostly within the Keo Seima REDD+ project area. The Doucs are estimated to have 25,000 individuals remaining, while the Gibbons are at only 2200 individuals.
One of the few remaining Southeast Asian wild elephant populations also resides within the park. As habitat has been destroyed elsewhere, there are increasing problems with human-elephant conflict. Elephants had been kept and domesticated as working animals by Bunong and other Cambodian groups in the past. This practice has lapsed as habitat decline has made it difficult to support.
We visited the Keo Seima administrative headquarters and toured the facility, visiting tree nurseries as well as confiscated illegal logging supplies: modified motorcycles and cars, chainsaws, and large blocks of hardwood. We met with the director of the park, who is responsible for all law enforcement in the park. He has just stepped up into the position and is from a community adjacent to the park and seems ambitious and honest and the WCS staff have a trusting working relationship with him.
A variety of opportunities are being explored by private and NGO parties in Sen Monorom and around the park to diversify income to support conservation. The Jahoo Gibbon Camp https://www.gibbon.life/ is a small NGO originated by WCS to support research which also accommodates day trips or longer stays on Bunong communal lands adjacent to the park. The Elephant Valley Project https://elephantvalleyproject.org/ is a little larger NGO that is now home to 11 retired elephants also on Bunong communal lands adjacent to the park. They have more of an educational mission and support week-long school trips as well as voluntourism. Both operations are well run and integrated with the communities in which they operate.