This year, 2014, was the first time that I did not pass Christmas with my family. It also marks the first time that I spent Christmas mountain biking.
The Chi Phat community based ecotourism project is a project of Wildlife Alliance, based in the southwestern Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia. The Chi Phat village is home to about 2,000 people, many of whom are farmers in this protected area. This project is an attempt to integrate both the conservation of this wild area, and the economic development of its people. It is no small task.Though there are ongoing debates about community opinion, fairly shared profits, the right balance of environmental concern, and employment opportunities, this project remains the most impressive integration of conservation and development that I’ve ever seen. Former poachers are turned into wildlife rangers, and the wildlife is turned into a resource. Many local young people are employed as part time guides, and other households earn money by hosting tourists or providing food. This project has won multiple international awards. I was happy to support the project during my 5 days there.
In between mountain biking , swimming in the river, and exploring the village, we also visited the Million Tree nursery, a reforestation project funded by Wildlife Alliance. The greenhouses were impressive, housing thousands and thousands of young trees and bushes. The reforestation effort was started in 2010, and it continues to grow every year.
Though these processes may move slowly, they are incredibly important. The Chi Phat project was inspiring and impactful to see. Conservation and development are not wholly mutually exclusive, but they do require careful thought and debate. It is projects like this one that are leading the way.