In the words of a Cambodian proverb, "You don't have to cut down a tree to get at its fruit." Yet in rural communities around the world, people often have no choice but to do just that.
Several years ago in the Cambodian village of Chumnoab, limited economic opportunities were leading local people to regularly cut down forests for agriculture and hunt increasingly rare species for the illegal wildlife trade. When faced with the question of daily survival, conservation was simply not an option.
Local communities are unlikely to choose to protect ecosystems unless conservation efforts benefit them in concrete, measurable ways. Through the development of conservation agreements, Conservation International's (CI) Conservation Stewards Program and CI-Cambodia are empowering the people of Chumnoab and other communities in the Cardamom Mountains to make choices that protect critical resources while providing immediate investments in economic development.