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Stung Treng, Cambodia
March 2005

The Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme (MWBP) is planning to undertake an ambitious, village-based research study into the river's biological and adjacent land-based resources at its demonstration site in Stung Treng, Cambodia* (also a Ramsar site).  The investigations and findings will depend primarily on the villagers' own research efforts and their existing knowledge. 

The research methodology for the study was developed in Thailand, and is known there as Thai Baan, meaning Thai Villagers.  In Cambodia it is given another name, Sala Phoum, meaning Village School. With funding from the Water and Nature Initiative (WANI) of IUCN – The World Conservation Union, a Thai Baan research group from the Songkhram Basin, Thailand and SEARIN (NGO) came to visit Stung Treng, from 7 to 9 March 2005. The purpose of the visit was to share concepts, processes and experiences of Thai Baan research in Thailand; develop an action plan for application in Stung Treng; and learn about community resource issues and management, and the livelihoods of the people living at the site.

Under the overall guidance of experienced Thai Baan researchers, villagers were slected from five Ramsar settlements and organized into research teams.  Following extensive training the teams will make regular assessments of their chosen topics.  The villagers have already decided upon research topics and they include: fish resources, the importance of the Mekong's unique river bed forests, local wild rice varieties and riverbank forests.  The objectives of the research topics will be agreed and appropriate research techniques devised.

The research into fisheries is likely to be of special significance.  Villagers are increasingly alarmed by declining catches and Sala Phoum promises to provide valuable information (e.g. on fish spawning sites, fish migrations, nursery sites) to enable villagers to prepare management plans for their local fisheries.  These will form an important part of community fishery efforts by the villagers.

All research subjects will provide significant data that the villagers can use to document the existing situation and future changes in the resources essential for their day-to-day lives.  This information will be of great use to local government departments in providing assistance to the villagers.  It can also be used to provide important data for use in environmental impact assessments into projects likely to affect any or all of the village resources.

Sala Phoum is part of the Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme (MWBP) of UNDP, IUCN and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and will be carried out under the technical support and guidance of Thai Baan research.  Also heavily involved is the Culture Environment and Preservation Association (CEPA) of Cambodia, one of the MWBP's partner organizations. CEPA is recruiting and training experienced Cambodian research assistants to help the villagers undertake, record and analyse their findings.  The research assistants will live in the villages for the duration of Sala Phoum – at least one year in the first instance.

* MWBP has four demonstration sites, they are based in: Stung Treng, Cambodia; Attapeu Province, Lao PDR; Songkharm Basin, Thailand; and Plain of Reeds, Vietnam.