Monks Community Forest in Cambodia Wins Prestigious Equator Prize

Buddhist Monks ordinating a tree.

Pact is proud to announce that its partner organization, the Monks Community Forestry (MCF), a group of Buddhist monks in northwest Cambodia, has won the prestigious United Nations sponsored Equator Prize celebrating outstanding community efforts to conserve biodiversity and reduce poverty. MCF and Venerable Bun Saluth have also received special recognition from a jury of leading conservation and development professionals. Among this year’s 25 Equator Prize winners, only four other communities have received this special recognition.

Since 2001, the monks of the Samraong Pagoda, located in Oddar Meanchey Province near Cambodia’s border with Thailand, have been protecting 18,261 hectares of forest from illegal clearing and incursion. It is now one of Cambodia’s largest and best protected community forests (MCF).

Pact and the Cambodian Forestry Administration have provided support to help the MCF establish community forestry legal status in Cambodia. Pact is now working with the MCF, the Cambodian Government, and with 12 other community forests in the area, on one of Cambodia’s first climate change mitigation and carbon offset projects. The project will earn carbon credits from the voluntary market to support forest protection efforts and contribute to improving local livelihoods. According to Pact’s Program Director, Amanda Bradley, “The MCF has collaborated effectively with local communities to turn an area of uncontrolled logging into an excellent example of best practice in conservation. We’re very excited about the potential of the carbon markets to reinforce and support these local efforts.”

Appalled at the ongoing destruction of his country’s forests, MCF’s Venerable Bun Saluth initiated protection of this area in 2001. With few resources, he and the monks of his pagoda have proven themselves to be powerful conservationists: they have demarcated forest boundaries, raised environmental awareness among local communities, developed co-management committees with local villagers, linked with government authorities and NGOs, and significantly reduced forest crime in the MCF through the development of unique approaches to law enforcement based on Buddhist principles.

The example of the MCF has demonstrated that Buddhist monks can be important allies for the conservation community: they have proven effective at deterring forest crime and can be powerful messengers for environmental protection. Their impressive achievements sprang from the monks’ belief that by protecting the MCF they are following the Buddha’s example and the principles he set out in his teachings to eliminate the suffering of all beings and to live ethically.

This small forest community in northwest Cambodia is now linked with 128 other Equator Prize winners from around the world who have been chosen as representatives of best practices in grassroots movements that combine biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction. Venerable Bun Saluth joins 25 of this year’s winners to receive the prize and US$5,000 in an award ceremony in New York on September 20th.