The Rattanakiri Living Library for Seeds and Culture

In the remote northeast corner of Cambodia, Rattanakiri is home to old growth forests where hidden trails lead to sacred waterfalls, healing mountain springs and remote tribal villages.

Seven indigenous tribes live here: the Krieng, Chray, Kachak, Tampuen, Brao, Lao, and Bunong. Their traditional livelihoods, supported by the abundance of these lush tropical forests, are quickly eroding due to accelerating road construction, an influx of new residents and rapid deforestation.

The Rattanakiri Living Library for Seeds and Culture is a seven hectare site in Takok Chray village perched on the banks of a perennial stream. The Living Library will serve as an ethnobotanical preservation garden with an extensive tree nursery and seed bank for the conservation of the medicinal, edible, and useful plants native to the forests of Rattanakiri.

As a welcoming community space, the Living Library will host events for education and celebration of the unique biodiversity, indigenous cultures, and the healing traditions of the region. The sanctuary will work in concert with Evolution in Motion Permaculture and ongoing Indigenous Ecovillage project, which preserves traditional communal land uses for forests and horticulture, including protecting areas of untouched sacred forests for rituals, ceremonies, and burials.

The severe loss of forest land has had major impacts on community health. In recent interviews with residents of Takok Chray village, some families tragically reported losing half of their children. Overall, 23% of indigenous children in Rattanakiri die before age five, most due to malnutrition and preventable disease.  We aim to bring resources and education into these communities to improve nutrition, hygiene, and health while reviving the abundance of over-harvested medicinal and nutritionally important plants through conservation and cultivation.

Active in local capacity-building, Ockenden Cambodia has guided the people through the process of establishing a network of Community Forests and Community Based Organizations to administer the forests. Over the past three years, indigenous groups have officially gained the legal rights to steward 35 Community Forests, home to a rich diversity of plants and wildlife.

A central goal of this Sacred Seeds Sanctuary is to support this newly-established network of 35 Community Forests, protecting 20,025 hectares of intact indigenous forests. The precarious existence of these forests is constantly threatened by aggressive companies who covet Rattanakiri’s rich soil in their insatiable drive to install monoculture plantations of rubber trees and other cash crops, which now cover the majority of the landscape. Conserving these remaining pockets of biodiversity is a challenge that requires a network rooted in strong local leadership, branching out to include international advocates and support.

The Living Library will host trainings in sustainable forest management, empowering the local population and Community Forestry leaders from Rattanakiri and other provinces to protect and steward forests throughout Cambodia.