For more than 20 years, Rơ Mah Kem from the village of Grông has been quietly guarding the precious giáng hương (sandalwood) forest in Ia Kriêng Commune in the Central Highland province of Gia Lai.
|Part of the precious sandalwood forest in Đức Cơ District in the Central Highland province of Gia Lai. Photo tienphong.vn|
Kem spends most of his day patrolling the forest to protect the precious trees and stop illegal loggers from encroaching on the land.
The wood is a top target for illegal loggers due to the high price it fetches on the black market.
Kem said he had also encouraged other locals and his relatives to work together to protect the forest.
Growing for hundreds of years, the forest is regarded as a treasure and a sacred symbol by Grông villagers through generations of ups and downs, according to the old villager.
Nearly 1,000 ancient trees currently cover an area of more than 3ha, growing to heights of 40m with an average diameter of 70-100cm.
Over the past 20 years, since the Government and local authorities started working with villagers to protect the forest, not a single root of the trees has been destroyed.
“Each has been marked by local people so they can check on them,” according to the local forest authority.
Workers embrace a large sandalwood tree. Photo tienphong.vn
Trịnh Xuân Hữu, an official from Đức Cơ District's Forest Protection Department, said Grông Village’s ethnic minority people were well aware of forest protection, especially the sandalwood forest.
If they spotted anyone acting suspiciously, they would immediately report it to local authorities to prevent them from entering the forest and destroying the trees, Hữu said.
In order to preserve the forest, authorities and Grông villagers had been raising awareness of how to protect the area, the official said.
“It has proven to be really effective because forest protection originated from the awareness of local people. No one dares to try and destroy the forest,” Hữu said.
He said more than ten years ago, the forest was nearly destroyed when district authorities planned to transform it into a rubber plantation for industrial development.
The plan was stopped thanks to elders in the village. Their opinion that the forest should be preserved were recognised by the commune and district authorities.
Currently, Đức Cơ District People's Committee grants VNĐ4 million to Ia Krieng Commune to pay two local staff to protect the forest 24/7.
Not only relying on locals, the district has also assigned forest rangers to regularly patrol and protect the area.
Nguyễn Hữu Mạnh, one of the forest rangers, said he had been working in the forest for more than 10 years with a pledge to prevent any destruction of the trees.
Mạnh said he also had a desire to expand the forest.
“Every year, I witness millions of ripe seeds falling to the ground but the rate of new trees is low, and only a few dozen saplings survive. I want authorities to conduct research by collecting fallen seeds to grow in other areas so we have more forests for our children,” said Mạnh.
Trịnh Văn Thanh, vice chairman of the district’s People's Committee, said in the near future, the district would set up barriers and fences to protect the precious forest while at the same time increase the planting of new trees.
In addition, Thanh said they also planned to boost local tourism by building roads from the commune centre to the forest.
Experts have warned the total forest area in the Central Highlands is falling, so this area should be regarded as a treasure for not only Grông Village, but also Gia Lai Province.
They have appealed that in order to retain the forest, authorities should maintain a close connection with the local community. VNS