A collaborative project between the University of Copenhagen, a Cambodian IT company, the international development organisation Danmission and their Cambodian partner, the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), were awarded the UN Equator Prize in front of 1,800 people at the Parisian theatre Mogador during COP21 last night.
The Prey Lang forest in northeastern Cambodia is the last big evergreen forest in Southeast Asia. It is the size of Zealand and home to at least 20 endangered plant species and 27 endangered animal species. It supplies the livelihood for over 200,000 local Cambodians.
Tree species found in the forest like teak and rosewood are coveted by illegal loggers.
The joint Danish/Cambodian initiative is attempting to fight the loggers. Local activists armed with mobile phones and a special app keep track of valuable trees in the forest and report on illegal logging.
Activists use the app to provide GPS co-ordinates for the rare and valuable trees and plants they find in patrols through Prey Long. The data provides an overview of the parts of the forest that are particularly worth protecting and helps document illegal logging.
“The prize allows us to focus on the problems in Prey Long, not just for the people of Cambodia, but also the global environment,” Danmission consultant Christina Dahl told DR Knowledge.
Dahl said the aim is to increase networking in Cambodia and among other indigenous people and decision-makers fighting illegal logging around the world.
“It is very important we help our partners to make contact with other like-minded people, so they have greater political clout,” said Dahl.
“They can learn from the experiences of others to fight for the environment and their rights.”
The app is also an effective tool to help combat corrupt officials who often co-operate with and are payed off by illegal loggers.
Where high tech meets the natural world
The app first became operational in January of this year.
“Previously, it was costly to get people together so they could share information – this tool has changed that,” Dahl said.
The 400 PLCN activists use a total of 35 phones to patrol Prey Lang. Although wireless signals are virtually nonexistent in the forest, the app is designed to store information and co-ordinates until the phone can connect to the internet and upload the information to a database.
“When everything is running smoothly with the app, it can show illegal logging hotspots on a weekly basis, and those areas can be patrolled.”