Deforestation remains a major threat to Cambodia’s forests due to illegal logging, and as a consequence the country is now facing threats to the local economy, food security, and biodiversity. However, a group of Buddhist monks and activists are working together to protect the forests, integrating Buddhist principles with environmental awareness.
In addition to their regular forest patrols, monks and activists led by Venerable Own Long recently held a Buddhist ceremony in Prey Lang, Cambodia’s largest and oldest evergreen woodland. During the ceremony they wrapped trees in the saffron cloth used to make robes for monks, in the hope that loggers themselves might be Buddhists and therefore think twice about felling the trees. According to Radio Free Asia, the group clothed at least 40 trees.
Honoring trees in this manner is a popular practice in many Buddhist-majority countries that are seeking to stem deforestation and establish wildlife reserves. Trees are given monastic ordination and wrapped in the iconic saffron cloth usually worn by Theravada monks.
Speaking to Radio Free Asia, Ven. Long noted that many young people attended the ceremony and that he hoped these youths would encourage and educate their friends so that more people would become involved in protecting the trees from damage, destruction, and deforestation.
“The youth have sacrificed their time and energy to protect the trees. In the future they will invite their friends [to do the same,]” said Ven. Long, noting that one ceremony would not be enough to stop the loggers. “After the ceremony, forest crime will . . . continue.” (Radio Free Asia)
Srey Thei, a representative of the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), a grouping of local community members working to save the forest from logging and industrial agriculture, said that illegal logging was difficult to combat because loggers usually operated late at night and were armed with homemade weapons. Thei criticized the local authorities, saying that they did not cooperate with the activists and made patroling the forest more difficult for communities such as PLCN.
“We are still concerned because we can’t patrol the entire forest,” said Thei. (Radio Free Asia)
“If we patrol the forest without the cooperation of the Ministry of Environment, they consider it as illegal activity,” Hoeun Sopheap, a Prey Lang activist based in Kampong Thom Province, told the Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service.
Cambodia has lost significant forest cover due to extensive smuggling of logs and timber, often aided and abetted by the authorities, to neighbouring countries, including China and Vietnam. In May 2017, the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reported that around 300,000 cubic meters of wood with a trade value of some US$75 million had been stolen and smuggled out of protected areas in Cambodia to Vietnam between December 2016 and February 2017.
Even the NASA Earth Observatory has sounded the alarm, since the deforestation is extensive enought to be tracked by satellite. Their website records that 1.44 million hectares of forest disappeared between 2001 and 2014—one of the world’s fastest rates of deforestation—and that the deforestiation was still ongoing at a rapid rate, with harmful consequences for human and animal populations, as well as the climate.
Monks and Activists Hold Buddhist Ceremony to Protect Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest (Radio Free Asia)
Report: Illegal Logging Still Rampant in Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest (Radio Free Asia)
EIA warns of illegal timber trade between Cambodia and Vietnam (Environmental Investigation Agency)
Cambodia’s Forests are Disappearing (NASA)