Three GERES project staff members weigh in on the Sustainable Forest Management project

The Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Project by the United Nations Development Programme, Global Environment Facility, and Cambodia’s Forestry Administration supports the National Forest Programme’s goal to cover 2 million hectares in Cambodia with decentralized forest management. Aiming to strengthen community-based SFM in Community Forests (CFs) and Community Protected Areas (CPAs), the SFM project – among others – develops capacity of local communities to manage the CFs and CPAs in accordance to the management plans, and supports business development and profitable enterprise development in CFs and CPAs to generate employment and income for local communities, in select project areas around the Cardamom mountains in the provinces of Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, Battambang and Pursat.

To contribute to the aforementioned objectives, GERES was tasked to: help enable communities perform (1) woodlot management and (2) sustainable charcoal production in order to sustainably manage fuelwood demand; and enable communities to gain access to improved cookstove (ICS) technology for (3) domestic cooking and (4) palm sugar production, in order to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

After nearly three years of implementation, GERES is ready to wrap up this project which produced the following outputs –

  1. Woodlots established in seven sites, and community members trained on proper fuelwood harvesting following each site’s seasonal harvest workplan;
  2. Improved Charcoal Kilns (17) constructed and established in 8 centers across 7 CFs with members trained on proper operation and maintenance; 90,510 kgs of improved charcoal produced;
  3. Improved cookstove units for domestic cooking produced by 45 entrepreneurs who have managed to produce and sell 90,000 ICS units;
  4. Improved cookstove design for palm sugar production set up in and used by 20 palm sugar producers who also got training on the use of the ICS.

I recently sat down with the three GERES staff who took part in the SFM project –Chen Cheth (CC), Improved Cookstove Project Manager; Chhorn Vireak (CV), Wood Biomass Officer; and Pen Sophal (PS), Community Development Coordinator – to hear their thoughts on and experience implementing the project.

Firewood harvesting based on a seasonal timetable


Yoshimura charcoal kiln


Vattanak plam sugar stove


What is the most challenging part about implementing the SFM project?

PS:  Implementing community-based projects always has the ‘’human’’ factor. We work with different people with different personalities, different motivations, and naturally, different levels of willingness and commitment. And to gain the level of commitment that is required to make projects like this sustainable, it is necessary for people to feel that it is worth their while – it’s human nature. In some ICKs where sustainable charcoal production has yet to prove lucrative, we found the interest and commitment of community members to be waning. Some of them would rather work as farm hands or in factories, for example, rather than mind the operation of the ICK if they don’t earn the same level of income as they can doing something else. And it’s very seasonal; ICK operations stop during the planting or harvesting season because members are busy at the farm.

CV:  The biggest challenge for me was getting the cooperation of all community members. And this lackluster response or sometimes even oppositional stance towards the project (ICK in the community forest) stems from lack of understanding of what, for example, a charcoal kiln in the community forest can cause to the forest. Many of these people have erroneous notions about certain elements of the project, which could have been corrected through a significant awareness-raising or information campaign. But with the budget that the project operated on, a massive information campaign that would have reached every single member of the community was not possible.

CC:  In the beginning the most challenging part was the marketing aspect of the improved cookstoves. The producers and retailers, as had been the case when GERES first started with an improved cookstove project in 2003, needed help in getting the word out there, and letting consumers that such a better product exists.

What was the most fulfilling aspect?

PS:  It is that when I see community members, who, only months ago did not know anything about the improved charcoal kiln, talk about the Yoshimura kiln technology intimately and creatively – you know, like how they begin to explore options and experiment on methods which they then share with other kiln operators. Another really fulfilling aspect is when I hear of stories of communities really taking ownership of the project. There was one CF who started a tree-planting campaign to help ensure reliable supply of firewood from their woodlot. It’s their own initiative, they had thought of it without any prodding from GERES. And then you also hear of stories of people no longer moving outside of the community to work in the city or as far away as Thailand, because they have found something to earn from right here in their community. These are very fulfilling.

CV:  The most fulfilling aspect is when I see communities practice what they had learned about sustainable firewood harvesting, and how they feel affronted and upset when others – from their own community or neighboring ones – just cut down trees or wood without consideration of their harvesting plan. They have become aware of the repercussions of indiscriminate harvesting, and thus they have begun to care.

What was the number 1 thing that you learned in implementing a project such as the SFM?

PS:  That the success of community-based project or enterprises ultimately lies on the hands of the community stakeholders. If there is no strong willingness and commitment from them – because they don’t get much benefit, in their opinion, or for some other reason – no community enterprise will succeed. People living in rural areas, just like any other human being, are motivated by survival, and that means, income. While many of them, when asked, profess to want to consider the environment in their decisions, still, the number one motivating factor for their every action is their means to survive – profit.

CV:  I realized that proper and effective coordination with all project partners is paramount. For this project, GERES was working parallel RECOFTC. To ensure that opportunities are maximized and action is performed in the most efficient manner, it is important that project partners – while performing two distinct but maybe a little bit overlapping tasks – conduct their action in a coordinated and synchronized fashion. Otherwise, investments made by the project will not produce the optimal benefit for the communities and other beneficiaries.