Socio-demographic and Economic Background of Monitors
The present case study shows that not all local people are willing to invest time and effort in actively trying to preserve the forest. We found that, although most of the individuals interviewed cared for the existence of the forest and the natural resources they can extract from it, active forest monitoring is the work of a relatively few dedicated individuals.
Members of PLCN, especially members taking part in forest patrols, were characterized as being forest-users. Irrespective of time of residence in the area, ethnicity and gender, a connection between livelihoods and forest resources, i.e., forest dependence, is a strong factor motivating forest-monitoring activities. For example, businessmen or businesswomen and farmers were less likely to participate in active monitoring.
Contrary to our results, a study from Nepal showed that gender influences monitoring, as men and women are differently involved in forest-related activities (Staddon et al. 2014). A study from Senegal argued that young people, women, and hierarchically “lower-ranking” ethnic groups participated less in politics (Crossouard and Dunne 2015). In partial agreement with this, young people were less commonly members of PLCN; however, ethnicity and gender did not significantly influence participation. Thus, these factors appear to be context-specific. Nevertheless, both the case of PLCN and the one presented by Crossouard and Dunne (2015) represent examples of how different segments of the society participate differently in processes that affect them all, be it deforestation, as in our case, or voting for presidential elections, as in their case. Although gender was not significantly associated with the likelihood of engaging in monitoring, we noticed that the representation of women among the monitors was lower than for men (27% of members and 14% of active members were females). Women who engaged in monitoring were usually free of family burdens, either because they were young and not yet married, or because they had no small children. In addition, female participation was highest in a village where the provincial leader of PLCN was a woman and the core member of the village surveyed was also a woman. Hence, the study suggests that female leaders in the network can influence the participation of other women in forest monitoring positively, as also shown in other initiatives of female grassroots movements for urban governance in the Philippines, Nepal, and Uganda (Wyant and Spasić 2015).
Beyond socio-demographic and economic factors, in our view, the context in which monitoring occurs must be taken into account to understand the engagement in autonomous monitoring. In Cambodia, as well as elsewhere, people are likely to become ‘activists’ when they are directly affected by a conflict, as bottom-up monitoring groups are usually formed around a community-concern or a community need (Lawrence et al. 2005; Thornton 2013). In Cambodia, the community-concern or need is often the extraction of natural resources that are essential for the bio-cultural survival of forest-dependent people. This is because Cambodia is a highly biodiverse country with a very weak institutional conservation strategy (Clements et al. 2010) and uncontrolled illegal timber extraction, in which the government, the FA, and powerful tycoons are complicit (Global Witness 2002; Milne 2015). This makes local communities vulnerable and provokes them to act for themselves.
Motivation to Engage in Forest Monitoring
Despite continuous threats and intimidation, some local people are motivated to counteract illicit activities. When international conservation NGOs or governments are seen as remote institutions, local participants get motivated to take part in environmental conservation, as they see themselves as the only ones capable or willing to identify and resolve their concerns about the surrounding environment (Goodwin 1998; Savan et al. 2003). This has promoted the emergence of community-led monitoring in Prey Lang.
These motivations to engage in natural resource monitoring highlights a fundamental difference between externally driven monitoring [categories 1–4, according to Danielsen et al. (2008)] and completely autonomous monitoring [category 5]. In externally driven monitoring schemes, motivation is often linked to incentives offered to the communities or to the individuals involved. These incentives may be the ability for local participants to use the collected data for decision-making and management (Constantino et al. 2012; Boissière et al. 2013), recognition of tenure rights (Veer et al. 2006; Ruiz-Mallén et al. 2015), recognition of legal access (Van Rijsoort and Jinfeng 2005; Funder et al. 2013), and pecuniary benefits (Rode et al. 2015; Ruiz-Mallén et al. 2015). By contrast, autonomous monitoring can occur even if these benefits are not offered. In our case study, the autonomous PLCN was intrinsically motivated by protecting not only their natural resources, but the whole landscape, as it is an inherent part of their life and culture.
Similar to our case study, García-Amado et al. (2013) explained that when there were no payments for biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, in their case study in Mexico, intrinsic reasons for preserving nature (e.g., “because we should respect wild animals”) clearly dominated over monetary or utilitarian motivations (e.g., “because it provides funds or allows us to have clean water”). However, their study also revealed that, as the number of years increased where payments were received, the weight of utilitarian and, especially, monetary motivations increased at the expense of intrinsic reasons. Participation in a community-led natural resource monitoring in Tanzania was sustained over time, because the local participants were driven by long-term and indirect benefits of monitoring, such as territorial and resource control, rather than by immediate economic incentives (Funder et al. 2013). Short-term economic incentives may not lead to sustained participation (Poulsen and Luanglath 2005; Staddon et al. 2015) and, therefore, externally incentivized monitoring schemes are more likely to be successful, where substantial intrinsic motivations for participation also exist.
Supporting the finding of Singh et al. (2014), who assessed the motivations of hunters to monitor moose populations over 26 years in Sweden, monitoring activities that are based on what the participants consider important makes engagement in monitoring rewarding in itself and therefore inherently sustainable. The only precondition for this is that, the communities are involved in defining monitoring objectives, which can happen in monitoring categories 3–5 of Danielsen et al. (2008).
The reluctance to report illegal activities might be related to mistrust in higher authorities, who are often involved in the illegal logging and do not recognize the work and rights of the monitoring network. Similarly, a case study from rural Australia showed that when land managers did not trust the authorities, they were less likely to report non-compliance with weed control (Graham 2014). The preference of PLCN to participating in patrols, rather than submitting reports to the authorities may also be linked to the feeling of success of the patrols and the lack of results from previous reporting to the authorities.
In addition to the motivation-categories included in our study, there might be other behavioral reasons to engage in patrols and, for example, other studies showed that a reputation of being trustworthy and more altruistic than others often motivates people to contribute for the public good (Ostrom 1998; Milinski et al. 2002; Barclay 2004). Yamagishi and Sato (1986) observed that different levels of cooperation in relation to use of public goods in Japan were affected by two types of motivation: greed (or desire to free ride) and fear (of being seen as a “sucker”). Greed was activated when the good was disjunctively produced and fear when it was conjunctively produced. This indicates that if forests or natural resources are seen as conjunctive goods, or commons, individuals would tend to cooperate (Ostrom 1990). However, our case showed that there are other elements, such as forest dependency and wanting to protect the territory from outsiders, which provide an additional motivation to actively engage in community-led forest monitoring.
Perceived Results of Monitoring
It is remarkable that, even though the active patrollers are relatively few and hold no sanctioning power or rule enforcement power, they perceive themselves to be successful in stopping illegal activities. This supports the theoretical assumption that customary access does not depend on coercive enforcement mechanisms (Ribot and Peluso 2009). In the case of weak or no institutional forest law enforcement, common in most Asian countries (Geist and Lambin 2002), local people tend to follow endogenous rules, rather than externally imposed rules (Clements et al. 2010).
Conflicts in relation to the timber industry are a daily concern in Cambodia, and it takes great courage by the active monitors to stand up in front of illegal loggers and corrupted authorities. Most monitors in Prey Lang relate similar accounts, as in other parts of Cambodia, where local people opposing illegal logging have experienced violent threats by government officials, armed forces, police, powerful businessmen, and employees (Milne 2015). Death threats and intimidation via phone calls are numerous. For example, interviewees frequently mentioned that “the authorities often remind us what happened to [the murdered environmental activist] Chut Wutty when they find us patrolling the forest”.