Monkey In The Prison

Monkey In The Prison

We called him Sva, which means monkey in the Khmer language. His real name is Peng. His nickname was Sva because he was arrested in the forest when he was roasting and eating a small monkey he had killed with a slingshot. It was a standard way of living for this half Cambodian, half tribal boy: whenever he felt hungry and was craving for meat, he went into the woods and tried to capture an animal to eat. He had no money to buy a gun, so he became a genius with the sling. A western staff member and Khmer assistants of the World Wildlife Foundation captured him and handed him over to the police. Of course, the WWF worker didn’t know that the police brutally asked Peng for $250 to let him go. Money that he did not have. So our monkey friend ended up in prison for one year because he also didn’t have the more substantial bribe sum of $1,000 the judge requested for his own wallet.

Silent deforestation

The World Wildlife Foundation is doing good work. It tries to protect the wildlife and seeks to protect the forest, but it is also ignorant when it comes to local politics. In Cambodia, I witnessed with my own eyes how poor locals want to earn an extra buck and end up in impoverished prisons for two years or longer for transporting a few blocks of timber on old motorbikes. In the meantime the superrich are arranging weekly transports of containers full of tropical hardwood via Vietnam to China, bribing police, provincial politicians, customs officers, and judges.

Mondulkiri is slowly but surely changing as a result of these transports. The old forests are disappearing. It started more than 10 years ago when a Chinese company built a fantastic asphalt road that finally unlocked the previously remote province. Their intention was not altruistic. They had one clear objective: to transport the cut trees easily through this road to the seaport. They made a deal with the government. They were allowed to cut the trees in many parts of the province as long as they planted new trees. Smart as they were, they replanted the cheapest trees possible: pine trees. That’s why you see now beautiful hills when you enter the province; hills that were previously covered with a dense forest but now show vast meadows with some bunches of pine trees.

Elephant, Tiger And Monkey

It is a silent deforestation that is playing out in Cambodia. Hardly anyone is objecting because this is not in the nature of the Cambodians. Also, the wildlife is disappearing. Mondulkiri was known for her elephant colonies. Now there are probably less than 500 wild elephants left according to WWF Cambodia.

Tigers are functionally extinct according to an article of IFL Science . The last one was reported in 2007. But Cambodia made a commitment to reintroduce the tiger in Mondulkiri. Unfortunately, having first-hand knowledge about the Cambodian mindset, this is probably going to be an empty commitment.

It also becomes more and more difficult for monkey colonies to find a habitat. When I first came to Mondulkiri 5 years ago, I always saw some monkeys in the hills. In the past 6 months, I haven’t seen any single monkey.


It is almost impossible to fight against the deforestation. This development is supported by the Khmer elite because timber smuggling is a more profitable business than drugs.

But there are other ways than fighting against the dark mainstream. And cocoa is going to help us. Cocoa is a shadow tree. It grows in the shades of big trees in the jungle. Mono-cropping (only planting one tree species) is not working with cocoa. Cocoa loves to be in the shade of trees like banana, jackfruit, mango, cashew nut, soursop, avocado, durian, or other fruit trees.

Whenever we are walking through our first cocoa farm, we have the feeling as if we are entering a small man-made jungle with all those different trees. Birds are nesting, bees are forming colonies, red ants are feeding on termites and other insects.

Let’s get our earth back

We can’t stop the wood cutting. It’s out of our hands. But we can replant. We are buying land that is now empty, cleared from trees and turning it into cocoa farms, where we intercrop our chocolate trees with many other different tree species.

We want to ask you to help us define which trees are all mixing well with cocoa. And we can experiment with these trees. For sure not all trees like cooperation with cocoa but let’s find out. Let’s turn around the deforestation and start replanting. Let’s get our earth back. So Cambodian monkeys will find their place again in the trees stead of prisons.

Please feel free to email us at for any questions or info related to the above or to cocoa in general. Check out our cocoa planting program at our website


Everybody knows about the disappearing Amazon forests and the vanishing jungles of Sumatra. However, hardly anyone outside the kingdom of Wonder is aware of the dramatic deforestation in Cambodia. Who cares anyway? Cambodia is already a pariah state in the eyes of almost all developed nations. Only China is hugely interested in Cambodia, and mostly for her natural resources. However, does China care about the deforestation? No, on the contrary, China is the driving force behind one of the biggest timber smuggling scandals in the world. If nothing will happen there will be no primeval forests left in Cambodia ten years from now. And nothing is happening because NGO’s like the WWF are engaging more and more opposition.

Farming Against Deforestation?

As strange as it sounds, farming can be an antidote against deforestation. And cocoa farming is the king in this movement. More than any other crop, cocoa is very suitable for intercropping. Cocoa is of origin a jungle tree, growing in the shade of far bigger trees. For a long time, farmers ignored this natural behavior. They planted cocoa as a mono-crop with many devastating diseases as a result. Slowly but surely the conviction is growing that cocoa is much better off when it is intercropped with many other trees. When we with our company Kamkav Farm learned about the possibilities of intercropping, we immediately developed this practice. We now first plant banana trees and Tatoemthet, a shadow tree. Both trees are growing very fast and can give the cocoa a considerable shade. This shade is necessary for the seedlings when they are still young and vulnerable.

Cutting And Replanting

After one year we start cutting half of the banana and Tatoemthet trees. We replace some of these by fruit trees like mango, cashew nut, avocado, durian, jackfruit, and soursop. Also, we need to give more space to the cocoa trees themselves.

From our first experiences, we can conclude that this intercropping is working. We hardly have trouble with insects attacking our cocoa, and also fungi is a minor issue, as long as we prune all the trees well.

All the dead leaves of all the different trees are functioning as free fertilizer and prevent erosion as well. This created biodiversity seems also more ideal for pollinators.

Dead Forests

Until half a century ago, huge forests covered almost the entire Cambodian province of Mondulkiri. Now you can see the results of deforestation everywhere, as a result of timber smuggling, and of mono-cropping like rubber and pepper. When I drive through one of the vast rubber plantations, which generally stretch out across more than 1,000 hectares, I always get overwhelmed by a depressive feeling, looking at the countless rows of rubber trees. The soil still looks dull and dark, due to the contamination by herbicides. You hear no birds singing because rubber plantations are not attractive for any bird to nest. Despite the green leaves in the tops of the trees, these plantations come across as dead forests.

Human-Made Cocoa Forests

However, when I arrive at our coco0a farm in Bu Sra, and have to work my way through the first planted hectares, my depressed feelings caused by the nearby rubber plantations, immediately make way for emotions of joy. I hear birds singing; bees and ants are continually creating their small kingdoms; avocado trees, banana trees, and mango trees are sometimes bearing fruit, but the cocoa trees are always beating any other fruit tree: cocoa trees are developing cocoa pods, the whole year through. I have more the feeling of walking through a jungle than being on a plantation. It gives me an excellent impression of how our province Mondulkiri can look like when we succeed in attracting more farmers to start with cocoa: Mondulkiri will then again be covered with rich forests; cocoa forests.

If you are interested in learning more about the first Cambodian cocoa in history, feel free to message our company at or visit our website at


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