Mennonite Central Committee, the North American inter-Mennonite aid and advocacy organisation, is supporting a community forestry association in Cambodia in a project to plant 250,000 trees in 2006, writes Tim Shenk.
Subsistence farmers in Takeo province, southern Cambodia, are raising trees to provide lumber and firewood for their households and to earn an income by supplying a paper factory.
The project is also being assisted through a fossil fuel-free environmental drive across the United States by two Mennonites, one a college professor, who are this month taking a Volkswagen Jetta powered by leftover cooking oil from California to Delaware.
As a result, the Takeo Community Forestry Association, an MCC partner organization, is selling hundreds of thousands of eucalyptus and acacia tree seedlings to local farmers for several cents apiece.
Kek Phat, a 75-year-old rice and vegetable farmer, recently harvested 3,000 trees that he planted with the help of the association a decade ago, says MCC. Phat and his wife Yeay Tek have raised seven children, six of whom are married and have left home. To pay for their children's weddings, Phat and Tek sold a third of their 7-acre farm.
Phat sold their trees to a Vietnamese paper factory for about 575 US dollars after taxes. He used some of the proceeds to buy back the land he and his wife sold. The couple also purchased a cow, a bicycle, clothes, food and household supplies. They saved more than enough to replant 3,000 trees.
"The trees helped me a lot during the last 10 years," Phat says. "I thank Mennonite Central Committee and the association that created this project to support the poor."
MCC helped form Takeo Community Forestry Association in 1994 and provides regular financial support to pay the association's staff. The association manages a 1,200-acre community forest that local farmers log and replant. About one-fifth of the forest is maintained as a protected area.
Mennonites are one of the historic peace churches in the USA and Canada. There are some 1.3 million Mennonites throughout the world, descended from the radical wing of the Reformation in Europe. They are known for their support for peace and justice rooted in biblical faith.
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