A group of Cambodian reporters from prominent media agencies travelled along the Mekong River as part of a 5-day press tour jointly organised by Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries (PaFF-SRJS) and conducted by WWF and Non-Timber Forests Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP). The objective of the press tour was to provide all members of the media with an insight into the uniqueness of the Mekong wilderness and the freshwater ecosystem value of this majestic river that offer so much potential for sustainable ecotourism. The aim was also to increase journalists’ understanding about local livelihoods involving eco-tourism operations in Kratie and Steung Treng.
As part of the tour program, WWF, NTFP-EP and other partners introduced the journalists to the local communities working in ecotourism and organized meetings with the governors and directors of Departments of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, Environment, and Tourism of both provinces to explore their efforts in tourism development, as well as discussing about the importance of conserving the Mekong biodiversity in the area.
Ecotourism projects in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces rely on the rich and incredibly diverse freshwater ecosystems found in the Mekong River. The Lower Mekong River is one of the few remaining free flowing rivers in Asia with 60 million people depending on it for their livelihood. This region is home to the critically endangered freshwater Irrawaddy Dolphin, and many endangered fish species such as giant barb, giant giurami, thicklip barb and dwarf goonch. It supports the region’s last remaining Hog Deer and many endangered birds, including white shouldered ibis, giant ibis, vultures and river tern.
The journalists enjoyed taking photographs and video of the beautiful sceneries and a near pristine region of tall riverine forest, waterways and island archipelagos. While filming and taking pictures of wildlife were the most exciting part of the tour, the press group met and interviewed local communities and authorities, as well as international tourists visiting the ecotourism sites.
In Preah Romkel Community Based Ecotourism (CBET), the journalists met with Kitty and Tom from Holland, who were visiting the area for their holidays. “We came here because we wanted to see the famous Irrawaddy dolphins, the birds and the Preah Nimith Waterfall (Khone Falls). We drove for 6 hours on a boat along the Mekong River, this is such a big and impressive place! The Mekong is wide and strong and the environment is so beautiful and different from in our country,” Kitty expressed excitedly.
More and more tourists are coming to Cambodia to discover ecotourism sites. The provincial department of tourism reported about 430,000 tourists visited Kratie in 2019, while 340,000 people visited Steung Treng last year. The Ministry of Tourism's 2019 report documented four ecotourism communities in Kratie namely Koh Trong, Koh Pdao, Koh Sam Seb and Koh Damborng, and six ecotourism communities in Steung Treng: Borey O'Svay, Koh Preah, Koh Han, Preah Romkel, Phnom Chumroksat, and Ou Russey Kandal.
Ecotourism and nature conservation go hand in hand. It is critical to maintain the Mekong’s natural ecological function for the benefit of biodiversity conservation and local communities, whose livelihoods and food security particularly depends on fisheries for many generations.
Indeed, local communities can generate extra income by sustainably managing the natural resources around them. Ms Thida Horn, one of Koh Samseb CBET members, created a homestay last year. “I am very happy to protect nature and biodiversity. I know it is important to protect these natural resources as our income and livelihoods depend on them,” she said.
In close cooperation with the provincial government, local authorities and communities in Kratie and Stung Treng, the PaFF–SRJS partnership comprising of WWF, NTFP-EP, CEPA, RECOFT and throught BMZ-fudned livelihoods programme promote new opportunities through ecotourism for local livelihoods improvements.
Today, ecotourism has become a crucial livelihoods component for the local people who are engaged and trained to operate and provide ecotourism activities such as homestays, guiding tourists to see wildlife and local culture, transportation and food services, and other hospitality. The partnership has been providing support to community-based ecotourism development since 2014 through capacity building, enhancement of ecotourism-related skills to organize and manage ecotourism services in an efficient and quality manner to effectively generate additional household incomes, while participating in sustainable management of natural resources in the Mekong.
By Laura Dehaene, Field Communications and Community Awareness Officer with WWF-Cambodia.