Photo: Akhila Vijayaraghavan © The eco-friendly snack seller.
This week I'm in Cambodia and it is a total surprise. Like most Asian countries, Cambodians are intrinsically 'green' in their daily lives, so there is a fair amount of biodegradable products around. While I am mostly in Siem Reap, which is small town near the Angkor Wat Temples; it gives me a good insight into Cambodian life.
Most of the people who live here, are rice farmers and in addition to growing rice they also grow their own vegetables and fish in one of the three large lakes in Siem Reap. They hardly use any pesticides or fertilizers in their cultivation, so their diet is mostly organic and fresh.
Much like in other parts of Asia - general packaging material is made of all-natural products. Their most famous dish called amok is steamed in a banana leaf cup and usually eaten straight out of it. They also have a street snack made with sticky rice stuffed with plantain, wrapped with banana leaf and roasted - the leaf not only acts as flavour but also biodegradable packaging.
I also saw excellent quality Cambodian silk for sale which is hand-spun and dyed with organic dyes. I bought a couple of paintings from a women's co-op here and they came wrapped with a rattan tube which again is hand-woven and biodegradable. There is no end to the innovative use of natural materials not just in Cambodia but also in the rest of Asia.
The Cambodians are skilled artisans and anyone who has visited here, will know this. However, a lot of their craft-work is wood based with leads to deforestation. Cambodia has one of the largest rates of deforestation mostly in part due to subsistence use for firewood etc but the high-quality wood is also illegally logged for export.
Although the town of Siem Reap has a fair amount of forest cover, the rapid development to support the tourism industry is putting strains on its natural resources. Ethical consumerism within places like Cambodia is easy enough because a lot of the arts and crafts are hand-made by artisans. The biggest impact as a tourist visiting Cambodia is the place you choose to stay in.
A number of hotels, guest-houses etc have come up to accommodate tourists and agricultural land is being converted into these developments. The people here have a better quality of life than other parts of Cambodia but with growing environmental degradation, it is only a matter of time before that is affected. In the face of abject general poverty in Cambodia, only talking about environmental awareness is not going to solve the pressing socio-enviro problems.