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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions or info related to the above or to cocoa in general. Check out our cocoa planting program at our website