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The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently announced that it would award Cambodian Buddhist monk Bun Saluth for his environmental work. Bun Saluth has devoted himself to preserving over eighteen thousand acres of forest land in the Oddar Meanchey province of Cambodia and has worked with local communities to create the Monk’s Community Forestry (MCF). From the UN press room:
[Bon Saluth] is on a crusade to preserve an 18,261 ha forest area in the province. Over the past eight years, he has come to the rescue of dozens of wild animals from traders, and also leads a volunteers’ patrol to prevent illegal logging. It’s a mission which has earned him an award from this year’s Equator Initiative, a UNDP prize for efforts to conserve global biodiversity for poverty reduction.
Ven. Bun Saluth received strong words of encouragement from the initiative’s organizers for his efforts.
“We commend you on the remarkable work of your initiative. You have provided us with a strong demonstration of the ingenuity of community-based work currently being undertaken in the tropics, often against tremendous odds,” Eileen de Ravin, manager of UNDP’s Equator Initiative, wrote in a letter informing the monk about the award.
Ven. Bun Saluth began his environmental mission in 2002. Then peace had just returned to Cambodia after nearly 30 years of armed conflict. The province, once a major battle zone, became an attraction for migrants and people with business interests seeking free land. Slowly, the trend began to take a toll on the forest. He said he had to act to put the breaks on further forest destruction – even if it sometimes meant pitting himself and his forest guardians against gun-wielding poachers.
“When Buddha was still alive, he used trees and caves as lodging to obtain enlightenment. In this way, he has taught us to love the natural resources and wild animals,” Ven. Bun Saluth, 39, said during a recent patrol of the site known as Monk’s Community Forestry (MCF). It is with this spirit that he protects the flora and fauna in his local area.
Under his leadership, six villages have come together to protect the area – currently the largest community-managed forest conservation site in Cambodia. It is a sanctuary to some of the country’s threatened species. The villagers rely on it for non-timber forest products such as mushrooms, tree resin, wild ginger, wild potato, and bamboo, that they collect every day to support their families.
Congratulations to Bon Saluth. Keep up the good work!