Conservation through development – introducing CRDT

The Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) are a local Cambodian NGO based in Kratie province. Whilst not primarily a conservation NGO, they partner with organisations such as WWF and WCS to achieve sustainable development and conservation goals through programmes on sustainable livelihoods, natural resource management and community development. Since they began in 2001, they have been working to improve sustainable agriculture in the region, with the dual objectives of lifting people out of poverty whilst at the same time protecting natural resources from over exploitation.

CRDT’s work on sustainable livelihoods covers five main areas: Food security, Income generation, Water and Sanitation, Renewable Energy and Environmental Education and Waste Management. However, as is the case for smaller NGOs the world over, securing funding is tricky and they have had to be smart and entrepreneurial, developing new and long term ways to secure funding for their projects. The way CRDT has done this is particularly neat; developing social enterprise projects which not only improve the lives of many in the province but also generate enough income to fund their work.

For example, CRDT have taken over the running of Le Tonle from a Swiss organisation. This is a guest house complete with restaurant which offers local youths from poor backgrounds the opportunity to learn skills in the tourism and hospitality sector. We had a lovely meal there and since leaving we’ve met a number of Le Tonle graduates putting their training to good use within the tourism sector.

Profits from the guest house fees, meals and drinks are all pumped back into the development project. CRDT also runs a ‘conversation with foreigners’ programme which offers conversational English classes to local students (run by English speaking volunteers) for a fraction of the price they would find elsewhere, again all profits help CRDT to fund their development programmes.

We caught up with Tola who is the business programme manager for CRDT tours and he told us all about its establishment. Since 2009, CRDT have been training communities to provide them with leadership, book keeping, guiding skills, and the skills needed to host tourists. Although the communities soon mastered these skills there were not enough tourists to host, hence CRDT tours was born to connect tourists and communities. In 2011, CRDT Tours was established as a separate enterprise but whose profits all go back to CRDT.

Tola told us that feasibility studies are first conducted for each interested community with the assistance of the local authorities, NGOs and local villages. Then villagers are given the training needed to provide homestays, chefs and transport options. Once set up, the homestays work on a rotational system, ensuring that benefits are shared between the community equally. For example, households will take it in turns to host tourists and as you pass through the villages you will see ‘my turn’ signs outside the next in-line household.

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CRDT currently work with three communities, Koh Phdao, Koh Dambang and Koh Preah, with around 500 tourists visiting per year. Each village has its own committee and all tourist income is split so that 50% is spent on salaries, 30% is directed to conservation projects, 10% is spent on administration and the remaining 10% is put into a village development fund for community projects or infrastructure development. For the conservation projects, money is spent on helping rangers patrol the river, checking for illegal fishing activities and working to promote sustainable fisheries and protect the Irrawaddy river dolphin.

We loved this NGO; the enthusiasm, passion and drive exhibited by all its staff was immediately apparent. Their willingness to take on new projects and challenges to help people and nature against huge odds is truly inspiring and we wish them all the success for the future.