Siem Reap ‘Green Zone’ To Increase Tourism Benefits For Locals

One of my impressions of Siem Reap when I made my first visit a year ago was that the tourism boom seemed to have little positive economic impact on the local rural population. Back then I wrote:

“The development of the tourism infrastructure and tourism based economy has begun to plant the seeds for a modest middle class but has not yet spread much beyond the city limits. It is only now beginning to reach into the indigenous urban population.”

Little did I know how devastatingly accurate that impression was:

“The pro-poor impact of in-destination tourism revenues is estimated at 27 percent in Luang Prabang, Laos, and 26 percent in Da Nang, Vietnam… But the pro-poor impacts are an extremely low five percent in Siem Reap.”

This raises of course a whole host of troubling question. This is a disappointing figure to say the least given the presence of NGOs large and small, that half the government’s budget comes from development aid and the seemingly widespread social consciousness among tourists and many business owners in Siem Reap.

On the other hand, a recent article in the New York Times highlighted that Luang Prabang, Laos, like Angkor Wat on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, is on the verge of cultural destruction due to its tourism success. One local expert, Laurent A. Rampon, former chief architect and director of the cultural preservation office there made what I found to be a troubling and startling conclusion for the director of cultural preservation:

“The paradox is that Unesco gives out the Heritage Site label partly to reduce poverty, but reducing poverty is reducing heritage,” Mr. Rampon said. “If you want to preserve heritage, you must keep poverty.”

Fortunately there are some folks who don’t agree with Mr. Rampon and they are planning to address the extremely limited pro-poor impact of Siem Reap’s tourism revenues in a unique way, one which could serve to preserve Cambodia’s traditional lifestyle while enhancing the
living standards of the rural poor in the region. A few of the project leaders explain their plans for an innovative agricultural ‘green zone’ in Siem Reap province:

“GTZ program leader Martin Orth, based in Siem Reap, told the Post that the project would both beautify and economically enrich the target districts. “The simple objective, he said, was “to grow vegetables and raise animals for the platters of the tourists who come to Siem Reap. The main theme is to link the tourist boom in Siem Reap to the rural areas.”

“He pointed out that 50-80 percent of the vegetables and about 75 percent of other foods consumed in Siem Reap were imported and that Siem Reap performed poorly in passing on money derived from tourism revenue to the general population.

“We want to turn the areas surrounding Siem Reap into a natural green zone and turn the poor districts into rich districts so that people can earn more money to better support their families,” Siem Reap governor Sou Phirin told the Post.”

The first phase of the project is being supported and largely funded to the tune of € 12 million by four German organizations – GTZ, DED, InWent, and KFW – in cooperation with the Cambodian government which is providing € 1.2 million in funding.

(If you are planning a trip to Angkor Wat please check out Savuth’s tuk tuk transportation services at

~ by Leonard on July 22, 2008.

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