Desertification is one of the biggest environmental challenges we face, and yet most people do not fully understand it. In order to bring attention to this critical issue, we recently celebrated World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. Desertification does not actually refer to the spread of current deserts, but rather the irreversible degradation of soil through human activities such as deforestation, unsustainable farming, mining and overgrazing. It occurs when trees and root systems that bind the soil are removed causing topsoil erosion, and when unsustainable farming practices severely deplete nutrients. The result is an infertile mix of dust and sand that transforms fragile ecosystems into barren deserts while displacing the communities that depend on the land.
This year’s theme focuses on ecosystem-based adaptation and emphasizes the benefits of sustainable land management policies and practices. Since 2001, Wildlife Alliance has preserved 1.7 million acres of forestland and planted over 730,000 trees. Through advocacy, reforestation and law enforcement, we work tirelessly to preserve remaining forest cover and reconnect the canopy in the Southern Cardamom Mountains for the people and animals that depend on it.
Wildlife Alliance’s Tropical Reforestation Project has taken another step towards fulfilling its goal of reconnecting fragmented and depleted rainforest in the Southern Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong province. In January, Reforestation staff built a canal in Tatai to mitigate topsoil erosion that prevented the growth of trees and plants in the planting fields.
Topsoil erosion is one of the leading concerns in rainforest reforestation efforts - especially in an area known to have been denuded through slash-and-burn farming like the Southern Cardamoms. Slash-and-burn cultivation destroys the top layer of soil, making it useless for planting after one growing season. This means that slash-and-burn farmers move on each season, destroying more forest and leaving it unable to support future flora. With topsoil washing away during the yearly monsoon season because it is unprotected from the rains due to both slash-and-burn and illegal logging, the forest area is left effectively destroyed for the future. The Tropical Reforestation Project aims to reverse these practices and restore continuous forest cover while providing a sustainable livelihood to local community members who once destroyed the forest.
Maintaining topsoil has plagued our reforestation project since its inception in 2009. In the absence of nutrient-rich topsoil, plant life struggles to grow and ceases to exist. Therefore, it can be nearly impossible to grow new trees in areas subject to topsoil erosion, which is widespread in this particular region. But, with the expertise of Wildlife Alliance and our Tropical Reforestation staff, topsoil erosion is becoming less of a limitation. In Tatai specifically, topsoil erosion was hampering any viable reforestation effort. However, in January, tractor plows dug water drainage canals at the site. Now, water is prevented from flowing across the fields during the monsoon season, thus allowing trees and plants to grow healthily. To date, Wildlife Alliance has replanted more than 733,000 trees in this region. Through new projects and lessons learned, like the implementation of drainage canals, we are continually helping to ensure these trees can grow and mature, and eventually restore forest cover in the Southern Cardamoms.
At the end of December and continuing into January, there was a significant increase in the number of wildfires in the forest surrounding Chi Phat. Between December 21st and January 19th, 10 incidents of arson were discovered in vital forest area. It is believed their motive was to burn reforested fields in an attempt to claim title to the land, even though it is set within the boundaries of protected forest areas. This crisis was immediately addressed, and a number of Wildlife Alliance’s field programs took action to deal with the issue.
Immediately, we employed and assigned guards in all fields of the Tropical Reforestation project, and guard stations are being built in critical areas. Our Zoning and Demarcation team placed warning signs around the reforested fields. The Tropical Reforestation project then took preventative measures to protect the fields by plowing between rows and the entire perimeter to create a fire break. These fire prevention measures proved effective in halting the spread of a fire in Trapeang Roung. To involve local officials, staff from the Southern Cardamom Forest Protection Program brought this issue to the attention of the Koh Kong Provincial Office, and a meeting with authorities has been scheduled. Finally, in order to increase awareness in the community, the Kouprey Express Mobile Environmental Education Unit conducted an emergency Community Night Show (CNS) in Chi Phat to address the rampant fires occurring in the area. This special CNS featured staff from the Community Agriculture Development Project (CADP), Community-Based Ecotourism project (CBET) and the Forestry Administration, and focused on why forest fires are so detrimental to the environment and to livelihoods in the community. With approximately 300 in attendance, this presentation by KE was well received by the community. A sign was also installed in front of the CBET office to serve as a reminder to the community about the urgent need to protect their forest and wildlife.
This recent situation illustrates the challenges Wildlife Alliance continues to face in the field despite the progress we have made in the area in the last decade, as well as the importance of Wildlife Alliance’s key attribute – a holistic, direct action approach to conservation – combining law enforcement, community outreach and government advocacy to mitigate a crisis as it is emerging. Our work would not be possible without you, help us continue to protect the Southern Cardamom Mountain Range!
Wildlife Alliance’s Tropical Reforestation Project in the Southern Cardamom Mountains employs 114 community members, providing them with a steady income and an alternative to slash-and-burn farming. One community member that has benefited from the program is Doem Seam, an energetic 60-year old widow, who has experienced great hardship in her life.
Doem Seam is originally from Kandal Province, but has been living in Koh Kong for over 40 years. She moved to the area in 1970 with her husband, however, great tragedy struck in 1975 when, in the middle of the night, Seam’s husband was violently taken away by Khmer Rouge cadres. During these difficult times, there was a shortage of medicine and widespread famine, and Seam lost five of her children to illness. She lives with her two surviving sons in Chi Phat. Even through these difficult times, Seam remained determined and strong. She supported her family by working as a police officer in Thmar Bang District in Koh Kong and after her retirement, she joined the Reforestation Project in 2007 as a manager.
Seam oversees the work of over 20 community staff members to maintain 733 hectares (1,811 acres) of reforested land. Her team works to enrich the soil, remove invasive weeds, and grow saplings in the nursery. Work at the reforestation site provides her with a sense of tranquility. She loves the forest, and finds that the trees soothe her mind and soul. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Seam witnessed massive destruction of the Southern Cardamoms by people and logging companies. She is happy to be part of a mission to help bring back this degraded land to its former splendor.
Help us continue to restore the Southern Cardamom Mountains and provide alternative livelihoods to community members like Doem Seam by making a gift this year. taking part in our Matching Gift Challenge. Every gift made from now until December 31st will be matched 3-to-1. You donation will help us combat deforestation, watershed destruction, and continue to provide hundreds of families with alternative livelihoods.
Sokharith is the field manager of the Tropical Reforestation project, which aims to reconnect fragmented rainforest in order to strengthen and increase continuous forest cover in Koh Kong province. It is his job to implement the planting and maintenance activities of the project, making sure the 733,000 trees that have been planted are well cared for.
Sokharith cares passionately about environmental conservation and is proud that his work contributes to the regeneration of a degraded forest that is critical to the region’s water supply and wildlife habitat. In 2008 he received his degree in Natural Resource Managements from Maharishi Vedic University in Prey Veng province. Even before his graduation, he was hired by Wildlife Alliance as a field technician in the Community Agriculture Development Project in Sovanna Baitong. For 2 years, he assisted families in improving agricultural productivity.
In 2010, he became Field Manager of the Tropical Reforestation project. This was an incredible opportunity for him to expand his practical knowledge of natural resource management, as well as work directly in forest restoration and preservation. It can be very challenging working in the forest; living conditions are extremely basic and Sokharith often goes long stretches of time without seeing his family. However, the energy and enthusiasm he shows for his work is unparalleled. Sokharith is a dedicated leader with excellent organizational and management skills. Through fair judgment and compassion, he has earned the respect and admiration of his staff. He treats them like family, listening to their problems and helping them in any way he can.
Sokharith and his team help maintain 733 hectares (1,811 acres) of reforested land. This is no easy feat: they spend long days in the sun enriching the soil, growing fibrous grass to prevent erosion, removing weeds, and replacing damaged saplings. To Sokharith these trees represent more than a new forest, they represent hope. What inspires Sokharith, is seeing firsthand people’s attitudes change. One day, a field worker confessed to Sokharith that he used to cut trees in the forest near Chi Phat, but after working with the Reforestation project and realizing how much time and energy goes into growing a tree, he felt great remorse. This confession made Sokharith happy, discovering that his work makes a direct impact on the environment while also changing minds and hearts.
Help Sokarith continue and his team by supporting our Tropical Reforestation Project today!
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Communications and Finance Field Liaison