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Forests under threat

A new report claims economic land concessions are eating into Cambodia’s forested areas. Photo by: Post Staff
The Forestry Administration has warned that the government will not
meet its goal of achieving 60 percent forest cover nationwide if it
continues parcelling out the Kingdom’s territory in economic land
concessions.
According to the Forestry Administration’s 2010
annual report, released last week and obtained today, more than 1.3
million hectares worth of economic land concessions have been granted
to date.
This figure represents roughly 7 percent of Cambodia’s
total territory, an area larger than Kampong Speu and Kampot provinces
combined.
Citing data obtained via satellite imagery, the
Forestry Administration said 56.94 percent of Cambodia is now forested,
a decrease of 2.15 percent from 2006.
“This result is a sign to
warn the Forestry Administration as well as the Ministry of
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries that the government’s Millennium
Development Goal of 60 percent forest cover may not be met because of
the trend of loss due to economic land concessions,” the administration
said, noting that a number of additional concessions are under
consideration.

“A review is much-needed in order to evaluate
concession land, and land that has not been used according to the
concession contract should be seized for conservation purposes.”
Rights
groups have alleged that much of the territory granted in economic land
concessions is cleared and left to lie fallow without a clear purpose.
In
a statement issued last May, the Cambodian Human Rights Action
Committee called on the government to place a moratorium on economic
land concessions until a proper monitoring system was put in place.
The new figures on land concession area represent an increase of roughly 300,000 hectares from 2006.
David
Emmett, the regional director for Conservation International, said the
legal framework surrounding economic concessions needed to be
strengthened in order for Cambodia to preserve its forest cover and
take advantage of conservation programmes.
Under the most
prominent of such  schemes, the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from
Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme, or REDD, countries can
“offset” their own carbon emissions by paying other countries to
conserve their forests.
“There’s a lot of donors and governments
wanting to invest in Cambodia … [but] they don’t know if they can be
sure that the area that is designated, for example, as a REDD-filed
demonstration site, will not suddenly have a new, 10,000-hectare
economic land concession,” Emmett said.
The Forestry
Administration’s forest cover figure of 56.94 percent “sounds about
right”, Emmett said, adding that Cambodia’s forestry loss has not been
occurring as quickly as in other countries in the region.
He noted, however, that areas of degraded forest or partially cleared land are sometimes tallied as forested.
“It doesn’t necessarily fully represent the quality of the forest as well as the quantity of the forest,” he said.
“You can look at something and say it’s still forest, but actually 30 percent of the trees are gone.”
The
FA reported that at least 7,977 hectares worth of trees were cleared
illegally last year, though it said forestry officials “paid attention
and played an active role in combating forestry crimes”.
Prime
Minister Hun Sen announced a crackdown on illegal logging last year,
sacking former Forestry Administration head Ty Sokun in April for his
alleged failure to stamp out the practice. Approximately 10,000 cubic
metres of illegally wood were ultimately seized in 2010, and 82
Cambodians are now awaiting trial in connection with logging offences,
the FA report said.
Human Rights Party spokesman Yem Ponharith
said, however, that high-level officials involved in the illegal
logging trade were seldom prosecuted and continued to profit from it.
“There
have been a number of raids against illegal loggers, but the smuggling
of luxury wood continues because of bribes paid to government
officials,” he said.
The HRP, he added, has been consistently ignored in its calls to conserve forests and reduce land concessions.
Last
May, neighbouring Indonesia declared a moratorium on land concessions
in forested areas in a bid to increase its forest cover and preserve
territory for use in potential REDD projects, though this move was
delayed earlier this month.
Chan Sarun, the Minister of
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, could not be reached for comment
today, while Forestry Administration director Chheng Kim Sun declined
to comment.
Phnom Penh Post
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