Prey Lang (“Our Forest”) is the largest evergreen lowland forest remaining in South East Asia, and it is under threat.
It is home to an indigenous population of 200,000 native Kuy who have lived in peaceful harmony with the forest for hundreds of years. The majority of families sustain themselves by harvesting resin, rottan, spiders, palm hearts, and medicinal plants.
A recent report from USAID estimates that without urgent action, the forest will be effectively gone in 2-3 years.
Since 2003 and with the consolidation of political power, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has sold large tracts of land within Prey Lang to private sector interests. While under the banner of ‘economic development’, these secretive sales often disregard existing laws designed to preserve Prey Lang’s primary forest.
Companies most often convert the land into plantations, which has precipitated an influx of migrant workers. In order to further maximize value, companies have also turned to funding a network of illegal loggers, who operate outside the framework of the concessions. These illegal loggers are widely believed to be supported by local police and military forces.
Local activists, operating under the banner of the Prey Lang Network, are fighting back. They have formed a citizens’ brigade to patrol the forest and monitor incursions by companies. They are confronting illegal loggers where they work, burning felled wood and confiscating inventory. They are also lobbying the relevant government agencies in Phnom Penh, demanding meaningful participation in the co-management of the Forest.
However, the real work has just begun.
The RGC has consistently shown itself to be positively influenced by international opinion. To this extent, the Network is now seeking to raise awareness via this photo campaign, an online petition on change.org, and thru facebook and twitter. These new forms of media will be presented to relevant government officials as evidence that the deforestation of Prey Lang an issue of global concern, and their rallying cry rings true: ‘Prey Lang is Your Forest Too’.
View Mathieu Young’s photos from his February 2012 trip on www.mathieuyoung.com