Prey Lang Community Network
The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) is a grassroots movement that works to preserve Prey Lang forest. PLCN is made up of active members in more than half of Prey Lang’s 339 communities which span the four Prey Lang provinces: Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampong Thom, and Preah Vihear.Today, there are approximately 120 PLCN members, with a core group made up of 20. Network members are not paid, but volunteer their time and efforts to preserve their forest and save their communities’ livelihoods.
PLCN peacefully advocates for the protection of Prey Lang for future generations. It does this by conducting forest patrols to stop illegal logging and monitor the activities of companies active in the area.
PLCN members engage in local and national-level actions to raise awareness among Cambodians and the world about the importance of this precious natural resource. The network urges the Cambodian government to step in and stop commercial logging and other activities harmful to the forest. In addition, PLCN has petitioned the government to work with local communities and the larger public when determining how the forest should be protected. It has put forward a co-management plan that would see officials and PLCN working together to ensure the forest’s survival.
History of the Prey Lang Community Network
Cambodian farmers and fishers, around the country, have noted that widespread deforestation has been followed by environmental changes including unpredictable weather, periods of drought and flood, declines in ground water and soil fertility, changes in insects, and loss of biodiversity, including foods and medicinal plants. “Too many forests have gone already,” Vong Phan, a 56-year old grandmother from Stung Treng stated, “We cannot lose another one, especially one as important as Prey Lang”.
In the early 2000s, Prey Lang communities began advocating for Prey Lang’s conservation. Together with other forest communities, they were instrumental in pressuring the government to end large-scale commercial logging. In 2004, with at least a temporary reprieve for Prey Lang, several communities agreed forest rules and attempted cooperation for protecting the forest.
In 2007, the Prey Lang Network began to emerge. Spanning most of the traditional forest villages around the forest, the Network has members from all four Prey Lang provinces.
“It is not reasonable to think only about the areas of the forest close to us”, Sim Sean, 36, of Kampong Thom said. “We must think about the forest as a whole. Would you say to someone in danger, I will save your life but only your heart. We agree to cut off your arms and legs because they are not important. No, we would save try to save the whole person”.
With that in mind, many Prey Lang communities have agreed their own forest use rules and cooperate on forest patrols to discourage illegal activities. They raise their own funds to do so.
“If we don’t take care of the forest, who will?”, Pok Hong, a Preah Vihear mother of 5 children, asked, “We’ve borrowed the forest from our children. We must protect it for them”.
Since 2009, the Prey Lang Network has petitioned the government numerous times to save the forest. They have volunteered their network as co-managers of the forest.
The Avatar Action 2011
Their actions have included both local and national-level events. – Inspired by the film “Avatar”, in 2011 they attracted national and international attention to Prey Lang in colorful demonstrations in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Read what ‘Radio Free Asia’ wrote. – See Slide Show
Network members have also:
- Staged repeated protests in and around Prey Lang, including a 10-day “occupation” of the forest to call public attention to illegal logging and land concessions, and road blocks to hinder the transport of illegal timber.
- Collected over 30,000 sign-ons for a petition to save Prey Lang, presented to the Royal Government of Cambodia.
- Initiated forest patrols, including youth groups, to challenge illegal logging and clearing.
- Mapped various areas of the forest to track government concessions and illegal activities and to document their own forest claims.
- Conducted simple biodiversity surveys to document species important for community livelihoods and traditional practices.
- Attracted a national following, including a coalition of civil society organizations who support their cause, even though they do not live in the Prey Lang area.
- Intimidated companies operating illegally by demonstrating the power of community action and community cohesion.
“This forest is important for everyone”, Phai Vun Leang, 48, asserted. “Without forest, there is no life. In the Kuy language, Prey Lang means ‘our forest’. This forest is for everyone. Prey Lang is our forest but it is your forest, too. You can help save it”.