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Buddhists ordain trees as monks to save forests

Monks Community Forest

The Monks Community Forest is 18,300 hectares (about 183 sq km) of legally-protected evergreen forest in the Oddar Meanchey province of Cambodia, and is the country's largest community-managed forest conservation site.

It owes its protected status to a group of Buddhist monks, who, inspired by the teachings of the Buddha, set out to safeguard the area in the early 2000s by ordaining trees as monks.

The importance of forests

Their action was due to one man in particular, monk Venerable Bun Saluth, who realised the importance of protecting the forests when he returned to Cambodia after studying in Thailand.

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, much of it due to illegal logging. Aware that Thailand had lost much of its traditional forests, Bun Saluth was worried that Cambodia was following the same path.

Venerable Bun Saluth

Buddhism plays a very important role in conserving nature, says Bun Saluth: 'When Lord Buddha was alive, he used trees and caves as his lodging to achieve enlightenment. In this way he taught us to love nature and animals.'

Inspired by the actions of Thai ecology monks who in the late 1980s began ordaining trees in the way they would induct a new monk to the faith, Bun Saluth set out to do the same, hoping that the loggers – who largely belong to the Buddhist faith – would respect the traditional orange monk's robes and leave the trees alone. To harm an ordained monk is both a religious taboo and legal offence, and the ordination extends this sacred status to the tree.

‘When Lord Buddha was alive, he used trees and caves as his lodging to achieve enlightenment. In this way he taught us to love nature and animals' – Venerable Bun Saluth

Benefits for villagers

Has the scheme worked? It has had many benefits, not least for the local community. Like everyone else, the 3,700 people from six villages around the forest are not allowed to fell trees or hunt animals. But they do benefit from using traditional fishing methods, collecting fallen timber for construction, and harvesting non-timber products like bamboo, wild ginger, fruit and mushrooms. -

MCF also provides resources such as shelter, subsistence crops, and commercial products, and the villagers, mostly subsistence farmers, have been empowered to have a voice in the management of the forest through local committees in each village.

Both patrolling and awareness-raising activities have significantly reduced incidents of forest crime including logging, hunting and land clearing, and is helping to safeguard the area’s biodiversity.

External funding also provided emergency rice supplies for poor families, helped them to market non-timber products, and provided them with food in exchange for conducting patrols.

Monks ordain a tree in the Monks Community Forest


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