Photo: Masaru Goto / World Bank
Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains-Tonle Sap landscape draws tourists from around the world and generates forest products such as rattan, resin, bamboo, and cardamon that can provide sustainable jobs and income for local communities.
By investing in this protected area, the World Bank’s Cambodia Sustainable Landscape and Ecotourism Project supports the Royal Government of Cambodia’s efforts to leverage its natural capital for ecotourism and economic growth.
Achieving these goals, however, requires understanding the opportunities and constraints for conservation-compatible jobs and income generation. The Supporting Effective Jobs Lending at Scale (SEJLS) program is amplifying the project’s jobs impacts and developing guides for sustainable landscape projects.
Protecting Cambodia’s natural capital and unlocking its potential for green, sustainable jobs
Natural capital, such as cropland and forest resources, helped drive Cambodia’s remarkable economic growth and poverty reduction over the past two decades and accounts for more than 40 percent of the country’s wealth today.
Yet, unsustainable economic activities have degraded the country’s natural capital. While Cambodia doubled the number of protected areas from 1993 to 2018, the government estimates indicate that forest cover declined from nearly 60 percent in 2006 to 48 percent in 2016, mainly because of commodity-driven deforestation. As Cambodia prohibits unsustainable activities in protected areas, local communities need alternative sources of income.
In addition to protecting natural resources, the Royal Government of Cambodia seeks to tap into the growing ecotourism market. Global estimates indicate that ecotourism is expected to increase by 20 percent annually, and Cambodia hopes to capitalize on this shift. The broader tourism sector in Cambodia already contributes to 12 percent of the GDP and creates one million jobs. However, the value added per tourist has stagnated and the average length of tourist stays has declined, partly due to a lack of ecotourism business and entrepreneurial skills limiting the quality and range of nature-based products and services.
Beyond ecotourism, the Cardamom Mountains-Tonle Sap hold vast potential for non-timber forest products. On average, households living in this landscape generate 30 to 40 percent of their income from forest products other than timber such as rattan, resin, bamboo or cardamon. Yet, most rural communities still rely significantly on unsustainable extractive activities that threaten both the forests and ecotourism.
Maximizing sustainable jobs and incomes in the Cardamom Mountains-Tonle Sap landscape
The Cambodia Sustainable Landscape and Ecotourism Project supports the Government by improving protected area management and by promoting ecotourism and sustainable non-timber forest products value chains. The project is strengthening the conservation and management of natural resources in the forest landscape, enhancing community and private sector participation, investing in strategic infrastructure to improve connectivity to ecotourism sites, and strengthening non-timber forest product value chains.
SEJLS helped the project integrate the jobs angle to maximize its potential for green sustainable jobs. SEJLS supported the development of a Jobs Theory of change to identify key job impacts and of job-related indicators in the Monitoring and Evaluation Framework. SEJLS also contributed to an assessment of the ecotourism sector, which highlighted four main factors constraining growth and employment:
- Limited protection of ecotourism assets, which leads to a degradation of forests and threatens Cambodia’s biodiversity.
- Low quality and less diversified ecotourism offerings, discouraging foreign travelers from staying longer or returning.
- Insufficient planning and management by the government to support ecotourism, including limited investment in marketing research and development for a new brand for ecotourism and poor infrastructure for ecotourism areas such as roads and bridges.
- Inadequate regulatory environment, including a lack of prioritization in the National Ecotourism Policy.
This analysis resulted in a set of policy priorities to promote employment in the ecotourism sector, which the Government of Cambodia has adopted. Some of the key priorities include:
- Operationalization of the National Ecotourism Policy.
- Enabling regulatory framework for private sector investments in community protected areas
- Capacity building of Ministry of Environment staff for more effective ecotourism oversight and management.
- Planning and development of three or four ecotourism destinations in the Cardamom Mountains.
- Professional training in ecotourism services at the community level.
Finally, an analysis of conservation-friendly agriculture in the landscape estimated the job-creation potential and opportunities for increased earnings in different value chains as well as potential public-private partnerships. The study proposes a road map to unlock the potential of conservation-friendly development in protected areas through policy and legislative reform, improved land tenure, better protected area planning and management, incentives for business investment, and strengthened community capacity.
This is part of a series of blogs sharing insights from activities funded by SEJLS to support WBG operations in maximizing their impact on jobs.