Indigenous ecotourism in Cambodia has declined due to the threat of the virus Environmental News

Banlung, Cambodia – When her two teenage daughters started going to high school three years ago, Thong Samai started selling Coca-Cola and Red Bull, as well as traditional themed wine at the entrance to Yek Loom, with bs shells collected from the forest, a sacred lake that is popular in eastern Cambodia. Ecotourism has become a destination.

It’s early March and COVID-19’s biggest wave is starting to hit the country – though No one still knows how bad it will be – And Samai is walking past his stall on his way to the lake shore as a group of domestic tourists flow from a bright white van.

“They [tourists] He’s afraid to go to me, and I also fear they might give me a quill, but I’m still at risk of running the business, ”he told Al Jazeera.

Making ০ 80,000 to ০০ 100,000 ($ 1.5 – $ 25) on a good day, as part of the indigenous Tampun community that drives the lake, 40-year-old Samai says the income from her stall is sure to keep her girls going to school. Helped to do.

Earnings have dried up since the epidemic began, and the lake was completely shut down during this month’s Khmer New Year, Cambodia’s biggest holiday.

The epidemic – rising again in Cambodia and forcing people to lock up in Phnom Penh and other hotspots – has become a constant pressure on the country’s indigenous communities in Ratnakiri province, for which extra income from their natural and spiritual patterns is important for their financial survival .

Cambodia’s indigenous groups make up less than two percent of the population, and most live in mountainous and forested northeastern provinces such as Ratnakiri.

In March 2021, a few visitors walked up the stairs to Yak Loom Lake in the town of Banlung in Ratnakiri Province. (Raun Rai / Al Jazeera)

But they are often at risk against agribusinesses with long-term leases, who want to clear forests and plant crops like rubber, as indigenous peoples have been occupying land for generations.

In the past, indigenous communities used rotating agriculture and lived in isolation from the “lowland” Cambodians. But when outsiders started moving to Ratankiri for open land and job opportunities more than 20 years ago, indigenous communities also started farming in tree planting methods and trying to earn other means.

Ratnakiri province has lost about 300% of its forest cover since 2000 – about 240,000 hectares (593,000 acres) – and 43% of the losses were from primary forests. Global Forest Watch.

Many communities have regretted the loss of forests that mark their land.

They hoped that ecotourism would provide them with a way not only to earn a little money, but also to protect some of their remaining forests.

Young Booth, a 49-year-old community fishing leader, watches the Sisan River in Ou Ya Dao District, Ratnakiri Province, last month. [Roun Ry/Al Jazeera]

Three villages of the Zarai tribal community near the Cambodian border with Vietnam have been rocked by hydroelectric dams on the banks of the Sesan River for more than a decade, but their biggest fear is now deforestation, which they hope could stop tourism.

Young Booth Zarai, 49, has become a part of the indigenous Pa Dal village since arriving in 2009 to study and protest the impact of the hydroelectric dam on Sesan. Over the past two years, he has noticed a company clearing some remaining dense forest between Pa Dal and the surrounding Pa Tong village.

‘Bad guy’

Vuth is now working with village volunteers to transform the two forest islands on the Sesan River into an ecosystem where it is hoped the project will stop organizations from cutting down trees.

“We can make some profit from these places. We can use this result to show the government that the community here can make some money from the place, so if any organization wants to come here and do something, we will report it,” he said. He said, however, that he was concerned in March that the epidemic would reduce the chances of attracting tourists.

Galan Loving, a fisherman from Pa Dal village and a 55-year-old booth friend, sees ecotourism as one of the few ways to stop clearing in their village and save some forest for the village’s youth.

“I’m afraid to lose the forest because bad people are always around and keep an eye on it,” he said. “If this [ecotourism] Plans happen, I’m sure we’ll be involved in the community. I would be so relieved if we could save the trees. “

A boy washes his hands at a hand washing station donated by Plan International on March 10, 2021 in Yak Lom Lake, Ratnakiri Province. (Raun Rai / Al Jazeera)

Ecotourism has already made a difference in protecting the forests around Yak Loom Lake where there are stalls of samai.

Community ecotourism leader Naham Neya says his Tampaun indigenous community began welcoming tourists and running businesses around the lake in 2000.

At the same time, Cambodians in other provinces were interested in buying rural lands, or forcing Indigenous families to take “soft titles” – private jobs given by local authorities – and to sell community land.

Since parts of the villages were sold privately, Yak Loom’s Tampun residents never received communal land titles, but after years of asking, 225 hectares (556 acres) of forests and lakes were declared protected areas in 2012, and Nia said the community has since Very few stumps – or loggers have seen them patrol.

Several times a month, members of the Yak Loom Ecotourism Committee track a circular path through the area’s protected forests in search of signs of logging. In one of the February patrols, Tampaun patrollers work a rat trap on a small fence and seize the cane wires used to catch wild chickens but find no new stamps or clearing.

Nay, the threat of logging is part of the community’s decision to keep Yak Laom open to visitors during the epidemic. With the exception of the Khmer New Year, the site was open for most of last year, when a travel ban was imposed and all tourist sites were ordered to close.

“We have a lot of big trees, so if we take a break, people will come and cut down the trees, so we’re worried about that,” he said. “But if the government orders us to stop, we will do what we say.”

Lee Kimki, 22, dressed his two-year-old daughter at a food stall on Lamkud Lake in Lampat District, Ratnakiri Province, on March 11, 2021. (Raun Rai / Al Jazeera)

At a distance of about kilometers0 kilometers (337 miles), Buli MI is trying to develop Lamkud, which is run by three more lakes and three Tampaun villages in the protected area, as an attraction like Yak Loom. For Mir, 39, the ecotourism site in Lumkud has been kept open by the epidemic, both to stop illegal logging and to earn income to help surrounding villages.

Expenditure has increased, income has also decreased

Between ordering papaya salads and strawberry-flavored energy drinks, Limi Kimki explained that in order to save money, he had to reduce the stock of his own open-air stand during the epidemic. He, his wife and their children live between his father-in-law’s house and Lumkud, occasionally sleeping in a tent near the lake so they can prepare food stalls quickly.

The 29-year-old, however, commented that it was better to work as a farmer, citing bad weather and low prices for cashew and cassava at tourist attractions in Ratnakiri.

“If I work in agriculture, it will be difficult for me, I probably won’t have enough food,” he said. “Here, I can eat the rest.”

Adequate budgeting to keep the lake running during Cookid-19 is a challenge every month

On March 20, 2021, in the town of Banlung in Ratankiri Province, Bebe Riang, 35, collected cashews from her farm. (Raun Rai / Al Jazeera)

He had to hire more people to check the temperature and spray sanitizer of the visitors at the entrance as per the requirement of the Ministry of Health, even the number of visitors has been reduced.

He said monthly profits dropped from Cambodian Real to about 1.5 million (500 500 to 37 375) and the park had been running at a loss for about 12 months between March, he said.

He said in early March, “We have not reached a stage where we still have to stop it, but we have to face the financial problem and find a solution.”

The sites of Lamcud and Yek Loom were shut down a few weeks later.

Ney said her village had closed its doors to outsiders before the epidemic began, adding that her and other indigenous communities had become more aware of the contagious disease after losing many members to a cholera outbreak 20 years ago.

“Because we’ve had this kind of thing before, we’re not like the people in the city, so if we see something weird [like an illness], We will hold a ceremony to close the villages, ”he said.

On March 15, 2021, a motorbike on the way to Path Thom village in Ochum district of Ratnakiri province announced a road closure to outsiders. (Raun Rai / Al Jazeera)

Yet, they preserve their own culture and spiritual practices, waiting for the epidemic to re-emerge once it has subsided.

The success of the ecotourism site – in addition to farming – has made life easier for the villagers, with increased income giving them the opportunity to buy motorbikes and phones.

“Time changes people and they like it when they see how the Khmer will survive, and it’s more fun, easier and cleaner to survive,” Nia said. “Updating [ourselves] Living like Khmer does not mean that we abandon our religion.

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