Indigenous land rights and forest protection: “It's our forest, too”
The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) is a network of mainly Indigenous communities living in and around the Prey Lang forest, which spans 500,000 hectares across four provinces in Cambodia. Since 2000, PLCN has advocated against illegal logging and large-scale, government-sanctioned land-grabbing on their ancestral lands. With an emphasis on peaceful, non-violent action, PLCN has engaged civil society, Indigenous associations, commune and district authorities, NGOs and research institutions in a joint movement for environmental justice and sustainable development. The core of PLCN's work is to patrol the forest, document forest crimes and advocate for long-term protection of the Prey Lang forest landscape.
Until recently, documenting illegal deforestation was difficult and expensive due to the vast area and little infrastructure. Then, in 2014, PLCN formed a partnership with the Community Peacebuilding Network, the Peace Bridges Organisation, the University of Copenhagen, Danish development organization Danmission, and Web Essentials (an IT company). The partners developed the “Prey Lang Data Collection app”, making it easy for local patrols to geo-reference, document, and upload information about natural resources and important biodiversity (resin trees, NTFPs, wildlife), illegal activities, climate-related events and threats to patrol members. PLCN has published eight monitoring reports on the status of Prey Lang, which document the importance of the forest to local livelihoods, international biodiversity conservation, illegal logging and the need for enforcement of the forest law by authorities.
PLCN’s work has exposed illegal logging in national and international media, and they’ve received four international environmental awards. After they petitioned the government to protect Prey Lang for ten years, Prey Lang was designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary in May 2016.
The full potential of PLCN in forest protection is currently restricted by corruption and shrinking civil space in Cambodia. Most recently, after the publishing of their latest Monitoring Report in January 2020, PLCN was banned from entering the forest, and patrol members have received numerous threats of arrest. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in logging inside the sanctuary, as PLCN has showed using high-resolution satellite images.