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Sala Phoum Technical Training Workshop

Stung Treng, Cambodia
31 May - 2 June 2005

A small group of four field staff from the Cambodian NGO, Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA), were recently given basic training in local knowledge collection methodologies and techniques, by peers from the Thai Baan research assistants and a handful of village researchers from the Nam Songkhram Demonstration site in Northeast Thailand.

The training workshop was conducted by Khun Chainarong Srettauchau, formerly director of Southeast Asian Rivers Network (SEARIN), one of the IUCN-MWBP partner organiSations in the Lower Songkhram River Basin. This marks the first cross-border extension of the Thai Baan research model from Thailand to a neighbouring country, and bodes well for future cooperation, networking and exchange by wetland resource user communities within the Mekong Basin.

A total of eight Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme staff and six village researchers (including one from the Rasi Salai Thai Baan network) traveled by minibus overland from Sri Songkhram district to Stung Treng, via Lao PDR, a journey only recently made possible by improvements in road communication.

The training workshop was comprised of several components. On the first day, the CEPA research assistant trainees were introduced to the basic methodologies and philosophy of Thai Baan research, including selection of village researchers, data collection, ecosystem classification, photography and information management. The research assistants are initially going to concentrate on recording local ecological knowledge on fish species, plants and the associated ecosystems of the four villages selected at the Stung Treng site. They were given the opportunity to practice what they had learned in the morning, by taking actual photos of a fish specimen and plant species, which for most was their first experience of using a digital camera.

On the second day, participants split into two groups for a field trip to the Ramsar Site, upstream of Stung Treng. One boat went far up to the top of the site next to the Lao-Cambodia border and sighted several Irrawaddy dolphins, whilst the second and larger group went only as far as Koh Sneng village, where a practical exercise in Thai Baan – Salaphoum research was held with the villagers and CEPA staff. The villagers, trainees and trainers were split into two groups, one to look at local knowledge on fish species, the other to research riverbank plants. This real-life exercise was a great success and by the end of the day, the researchers and research assistants were able to present to the rest of the group, information on basic characteristics, ecological, usage, economical and other data on the plant and fish species they had chosen. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole day was the ease of communication possible between the Cambodian and Thai villagers in their common Lao tongue, without the need to pass through interpreters, as was sometimes necessary for the field staff when talking to their counterparts.

The third and final stage of the workshop training on Thursday morning consisted of an exchange of experiences, lessons and impressions from the previous day, with lively input from all concerned. Based on this, the participants were able to plan ahead for the next stage of the Salaphoum research, up until presentation of the first progress report workshop around October, 2005. The immediate priority though is to now hold meetings in the respective villages and collect the names of villagers who will be the future Salaphoum researchers.