Cambodian Buddhist monk with an environmental crusade

September 21, 2010
United Nations Development Programme

Ven. Bun Saluth, a Cambodian Buddhist Monk with an environmental crusade

In what began as a Cambodian Buddhist monk’s mission to thwart the destruction of the environment has resulted in the legal protection of 18,261 hectare of evergreen forest in northwestern Cambodia, now called the Monks Community Forest.

In honour of the Venerable Bun Saluth’s work to preserve the forests of his country, UNDP’s Equator Initiative has selected him as one of 25 people in the world to receive the Equator Prize 2010.

The Equator Initiative is a partnership that brings together the United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to raise the profile of local efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

For Bun Saluth, the effort to save the forest surrounding Cambodia’s Oddar Meanchey province from illegal logging and land encroachment was from the start an effort to teach people the importance of the natural resources their livelihoods depended on.

When he began his crusade in 2002, Bun Saluth encountered skeptical villagers who thought he wanted to establish personal ownership of the forest. Yet with time they came to understand that saving the forest was for the whole community.

“It would be very difficult for our lives had it not been for this forest,” said Cheng Ri, a resident from the region. “Villagers, when they run out of rice, can go into the forest to pick mushrooms or wild ginger to sell without having to borrow money from others.”

Ri said he earned an average US$130 a month from trading mushroom and tree resin, a significant amount considering one third of Cambodia’s 13.4 million people still live below the national poverty line of 60 cents a day.

Under Bun Saluth’s leadership, six villages now work together to patrol the area and to ensure that farmers from the local communities benefit from the forest’s resources. Villagers have a direct say in forest management and together monitor the forest to stop illegal logging and harvesting activities.

Monks Community Forest has also been chosen as one of 13 community forest sites for Cambodia’s first carbon credit project under the United Nations led programme Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

Bun Saluth will be honoured along with the award’s other recipients at the Equator Prize Award Ceremony on 20 September 2010 as part of Equator Initiative’s participation in the 2010 United Nations General Assembly and Millennium Review Summit taking place in New York City (20-24 September) and the United Nations special session on Biodiversity (22 September).