Rural communities in Cambodia find ways to overcome impacts of climate change

Fruit trees pepper the homesteads, fish swim among the rice stalks in paddy fields, and stout chickens run around the village of Chiork Boeungprey, located within Boeungper Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia.

Villagers here plant rice and cashew trees, raise livestock and carry out odd jobs for a living.  They also protect a 2,000 ha patch of forest — one of 27 such Community Protected Areas (CPA) within the wildlife sanctuary — that provides them with a sustainable supply of resin and other non-timber forest products.

Over the past few years, the villagers began noticing changes in the climate, which brought more extensive flooding and drought, reducing their crop yields, forcing them to strip their forests to provide things like firewood.

“The seasonal rainfalls have changed and the heat waves are getting hotter,” said Sieng Houy, a farmer in the village.

In 2013, after a countrywide assessment highlighted the vulnerability of the region to climate change, UN Environment started to work with villagers to build their resilience to the changes brought about by global warming.

The project, Enhancing Climate Change Resilience of Rural Communities living in Protected Areas in Cambodia, intensifies agricultural production outside of the protected area, improving food security, increasing income, and rehabilitates degraded forest, thus ensuring the sustainable supply of essential ecosystem goods and services.

Work on ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change is a priority at UN Environment, which supports countries at all levels to help them achieve ecologically sound, resilient development.

The team started with construction of a nursery, and since then, more than 250,000 trees have been planted. The nursery’s sunny but sheltered interior is filled with rows of seedlings of indigenous trees meant for forest rehabilitation, and clutches of baby fruit trees destined for homesteads, to bring greater food security.  

Alongside the nursery, villagers gather in the newly built community hall to share new farming practices and talk about what has or hasn’t worked in their home gardens.

The village has become a living example of successful community-based adaptation, regularly visited by university students from Phnom Penh.

Both the nursery and community hall are cornerstones of the project, which is carried out by the Ministry of Environment in cooperation with UN Environment with funding from the Adaptation Fund, a financial instrument of the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The nursery gives this community hope. We used the seedlings to reforest our environment, and the fruit trees and vegetables from my home garden give us food and nutrients daily,” said 71-year-old Svay Khin, a long-time resident of Chiork Boeungprey, who has seen the onset of climate change reduce his rice yields.

Recently, this particular project has seen more than 500 home gardens established, 4,300 community members trained in a variety of relevant skills and over 300 households gain improved access to water from extensive development of infrastructure for water resources.

Svay Khin has observed the benefits of the training he has received in the last three years.

 “The tube wells the project installed guarantee water supply for our home gardens, family livestock farming and household use, and the chickens we are raising has given my family financial security.”

Chief technical advisor for the Cambodia project, Nicholas Tye, said: “The implementation team has so many stories like these showing the impact of the project in the communities.”

The project is one in a diverse portfolio that UN Environment manages, working with governments to shape and implement plans to respond to and buffer against current and future impacts of climate change specific to their countries and vulnerable communities. As major and often-overlooked impacts of climate change are socioeconomic, the project also has a focus on enriching community interaction and collaborative stewardship of the community protected area.

“We help countries access climate finance, build capacity and knowledge at all levels— so from policy to the field— and help governments integrate ecosystem-based adaptation options into their national development and adaptation plans,” said Atifa Kassam, Task Manager, climate change adaptation unit, UN Environment.

Through the Ecosystem-based Adaptation Programme, UN Environment works across all levels, from helping vulnerable communities adapt to climate change through  improved management of the ecosystems on which they depend, to integrating ecosystem-based adaptation into climate change strategies and action plans. The programmeis being implemented in diverse ecosystem settings, including mountains, river basins, dry-lands and low-lying coasts.