Governing landscape transitions in Cambodia

Riggs, Rebecca Anne (2020) Governing landscape transitions in Cambodia. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Achieving sustainable development in tropical forest landscapes is inherently challenging. Entwined issues of poverty and natural resource degradation provoke international attention, and the diversity of complex situations means there will not be one solution. In recognition of this, attempts to influence development trajectories focus on landscapes; geographical spaces, delimited by a set of locally identified problems, where decision-making unfolds. Understanding the unique, complex drivers of change occurring in different landscapes, and how change might be nurtured to improve existing systems, is fundamental to efforts seeking inclusive, locally desired, and environmentally-sound development pathways.

In Cambodia, communities, government, and non-government organizations hold diverse and conflicting visions exist over the future of rapidly changing rural forest landscapes. Current production and consumption systems drive inequality and environmental degradation. Protected areas exist to retain habitat for globally significant biodiversity but compete for land against rural people seeking to improve their well-being. Institutions, processes, and structures that govern inherent conservation and development trade-offs are not delivering the desired outcomes for people and nature.

In this thesis, I examine two changing forest landscapes in Cambodia to determine how local governance can enable better environmental and social outcomes. I ask (I) what are the trajectories of change for rural landscapes in Cambodia, and (II) how can institutions nurture change for sustainable development? Using place-based sustainability science, I engaged with the Wildlife Conservation Society and government and non-government organizations involved in conservation and development at the landscape scale. I gathered information through interviews, group discussions, questionnaires, and built upon previous studies that took place in the landscapes. I focused my analysis on local perspectives of conservation and development and the institutional arrangements and leverage points for managing landscape transitions.

I find that forest landscapes in Cambodia are transitioning at a rapid pace. Proliferating infrastructure and agricultural expansion drive wealth accumulation. These conditions enable rural prosperity which allows households to increase off-farm income; well-being improves with each generation. Households that are locked out of increasing their assets, through hard or soft infrastructural isolation, remain in a poverty trap. Local agencies responsible for managing conservation and development trade-offs lack technical capacity and resources, and rent seeking is entrenched in decision-making. As a result, conservation agencies struggle to prevent deforestation and environmental degradation.

Opportunities for nurturing landscape transitions in Cambodia lie within existing decision-making networks between government, non-government, and local actors. Local agencies must be willing to solve problems, and external actors must engage with local institutional processes, targeting resources to improve their capacity for governing change. Conservation agencies must accept trade-offs that arise from improving well-being in rural areas and consider long term realistic scenarios for the future of Cambodia's forests.

In tropical forest landscapes, efforts to nurture sustainability must be embedded in the social-political context, including decision-making and drivers of change at multiple temporal and hierarchical scales. The degree to which landscapes deliver sustainable inclusive development will depend on the institutions that govern them.

Item ID: 64113
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Cambodia, conservation development trade-offs, landscape transitions, local governance, perceptions, roads, scenarios, sustainable development, transdisciplinary research
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Copyright Information: Copyright © 2020 Rebecca Anne Riggs.
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Three publications arising from this thesis are stored in ResearchOnline@JCU, at the time of processing. Please see the Related URLs. The publications are:

Chapter 1: Riggs, Rebecca Anne, Langston, James Douglas, and Sayer, Jeffrey (2018) Incorporating governance into forest transition frameworks to understand and influence Cambodia's forest landscapes. Forest Policy and Economics, 96. pp. 19-27.

Chapter 2: Riggs, Rebecca Anne, Langston, James Douglas, Beauchamp, Emilie, Travers, Henry, Ken, Sereyrotha, and Margules, Chris (2020) Examining trajectories of change for prosperous forest landscapes in Cambodia. Environmental Management, 66. pp. 72-90.

Chapter 3: Riggs, Rebecca A., Langston, James D., Sayer, Jeffrey, Sloan, Sean, and Laurance, William F. (2020) Learning from local perceptions for strategic road development in Cambodia's protected forests. Tropical Conservation Science, 13. pp. 1-16.

Date Deposited: 18 Aug 2020 00:46
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050205 Environmental Management @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960806 Forest and Woodlands Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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