Posted on 25 September 2020
“Two years ago I saw hundreds of lesser adjutants perching on a big leafless tree. The tree was so big but all I could see were the birds all over that big tree. But then the tree was cut down, and I rarely see large group of lesser adjutants here now”, uncle Hea Sam Oeurn recalled from his memory while he was at the tree ordination ceremony at Phnom Ses community forest.
Standing with eagerness for describing his feeling about Phnom Ses’s forest and wildlife devastating situation, uncle Hea Sam Oeurn, 45 year-old deputy chief of Phnom Ses forest community, told of the old good times when Phnom Ses forest was abundant with many endangered and rare wildlife and tree species, while emphasizing urgent need to protect the natural resources at Phnom Ses, witnessing current situation of excessive illegal logging almost every day.
“Here, it used to have many kinds of wild animals. But now we lost the elephant, tiger, and guar. Now we only have wild boar, red muntjac, lesser oriental chevrotain, and some bird species such as white-shouldered ibis, lesser adjutant, green peafowl, and jungle chicken. For wood species, we lost Beng, Thnong, Neang Noun, and Kranhoung, remaining mostly only the raisin trees,. There are only around 100 raisin trees left, and few Srolao, Chheuteal, Trach, and Chambak. Two years ago we also had banteng, sambar, and many bears, but banteng is all gone now and we only have small number of bears because of relentless habitat destruction caused by people”, said uncle Sam Oeurn, while standing near a Srolao tree freshly ordained by Buddhist monks.
Uncle Sam Oeurn with his community members, officials from Kratie Provincial Department of Environment, Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Forestry Administration, and local authorities has been working so hard to protect the forest and wildlife at Phnom Ses; however, illegal logging, land encroachment, and land conversion are still unabated. “Illegal logging is very anarchic here, though we try our best to protect. We have relevant technical and local authorities, and our community team coming together to crack down on illegal activities here, but we still cannot stop the illegal activities. There are people coming almost every day to cut down the trees, encroach the land, and there are even people coming to grab the land here for sale”, said uncle Sam Oeurn.
Phnom Ses community forest was created in early February 2007. In the community there are 169 families with 387 household members (126 women). This community forest is under the management of a committee consisting of 11 committee members (three women).
Abundant with luxury wood species and being a critical habitat for many endangered species, Phnom Ses community forest covers an area of 3,081 ha, located in Ou Kreang commune, Sambo district, Kratie province. It is around 110 km away from and northeastern of Kratie town. Surrounded by thousand hectares of rubber plantation, Phnom Ses community forest looks so lost, solitary, and tragic.
Phnom Ses community forest was approved by the Prakas of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and signed “Community Forest Agreement” with Kratie Forestry Administration on 30th November 2018, allowing the community to have full legal rights to sustainably managing the forests and natural resources within the area.
Eleven days after signing the agreement, on 11th December 2018, WWF-Cambodia, in collaboration with Kratie Forestry Administration (FA) and Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (PDAFF), Provincial Department of Environment (PDoE), Provincial Department of Cult and Religion (PDCR), local authorities, and community members organized “tree ordination ceremony” which is a traditionally ritual ceremony of the indigenous people who hold belief in Buddhism and deities in Phnom Ses community forest. Twenty five Buddhist monks from six pagodas (four in Kratie and two in Phnom Penh) ordained 51 trees as a symbolic ceremony to protect forests in 51 community forests already established in Kratie province.
The ordination of the tree ceremony was organized to raise awareness about the contribution to the protection of the forests by letting the community people and general citizens know that forests are protected by law, god, and deities. The ceremony also reflected close collaboration among governmental institutions, local authorities, community people, NGOs, and conservation partners in the protection of forests and sustainable use of natural resources.
“I feel very happy to have this tree ordination ceremony because many stakeholders come to this forest and they can see the real situation at the forest by themselves”, Uncle Sam Oeurn expressed his excitement about the event. Among the most enthusiasts about the ceremony was Mr. San Samia, the 65 year-old commune councillor of Ou Kreang commune. “Tree ordination ceremony is important because it reinforces the citizen’s belief and helps prevent people from encroaching the land and cutting the remaining trees”, said the councillor.
In the ceremony, indigenous people in the community performed ritual offerings and prayed to deities for the everlasting protection of the forests, in addition to Buddhist religious walking parade and chanting to enchant Buddhist robes used for wrapping around the 51 trees to be ordained as the symbolic ceremony to protect the forests in the 51 community forests in Kratie province. This tree ordination ceremony was celebrated for the first time in Kratie, and it received strong support from the community people as they believed that such ritual ceremony would help protect the forests, wild animals, and natural resources remaining in Phnom Ses community forest.
Venerable Hoy Meng Teang, a Buddhist monk from Phnom Penh, who led in ordaining the 51 trees explained that tree ordination ceremony is about the connection between Buddhism and nature as Buddha was born under the trees, got enlightened under the tree, and died under the tree. This is a belief that has been well rooted in Khmer citizens and such ceremony is deeply revered.
“We, indigenous people, believe that trees that are ordained are sacred. Anyone who dares to cut the ordained trees will be in peril.” Mrs. Seng Sokheng, 43 years old woman from Ou Preah village avowed. Likewise, Ms. Chhiv Sothea, 29 year-old lady from the same village, who has grown up to feel so connected Phnom Ses forest, was so hopeful about the future of the forest which she used to see many wild animals and trees being in natural harmony. She softly conveyed her hope “I believe this ceremony can protect the trees because people think once the trees are ordained, they can’t be cut. We keep the trees to protect animals’ habitats and our children and grandchildren.”
The tree ordination ceremony was part of WWF-Cambodia’s Scale-Up project funded by the Belgium government (DGD-Belgium), supporting eight community forests in Kratie province.
In addition, WWF-Cambodia has been supporting forestry and fishery communities in the Mekong Flooded Forest landscape (MFF) through Partnership Programme to Support Forestry and Fishery communities (PaFF) funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) since 2014, reinforcing the capacity of the communities as well as increasing their livelihoods by sustainably managing natural resources.
On 30th November 2018, eight new community forests (including Phnom Ses community forest) in Kratie province were approved by Prakas from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and signed “community forest agreement” with Kratie Forestry Administration in order to get full legal rights to sustainably managing natural resources in their community forests.
In total, until now 38 of the 51 community forests in Kratie province were approved by the Prakas from MAFF and signed the “community forest agreement” with Kratie Forestry Administration.