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4. Institutional Framework for Natural Resource Management


Environmental planning and management in Cambodia is a highly convoluted process, with almost every aspect of environmental legislation spreading over more than one Ministry. No new legislation has been passed through this multi-Ministry framework. The lack of a collaborative mechanism between and even within Departments and Ministries is a crucial problem tending to lead to isolated, unintegrated approaches to management.

Although significant progress has been made toward sustainable resource management since the famine in 1979/80, there is still no coherent strategy for management in any of the key resource sectors (forests, fisheries, water and wetlands). One of the first necessary steps in moving toward more sustainable resource use is the achievement of food self sufficiency. This would involve overcoming the flood-drought regime by securing water supply though increased investment in micro-level irrigation and micro-watershed management, but no long term strategic plan exists.

Despite the creation of the Ministry of the Environment after the May 1993 election,7 the basic structure of resource management has not changed fundamentally since the 1960s. The Ministry of Agriculture is still the main power holder and central resource decision-maker, reluctant to hand over any of its resource management mandates to the MoE or the newly formed Ministry of Rural Development. This leaves both Ministries in a peripheral position, lacking political space in which to be operational. The basic legislation defining the powers of the Ministry of the Environment are still being drawn up, further exacerbating its powerlessness and the confusion surrounding its role, both within the MoE and within other Ministries. There is a clear need for a more coherent decision-making framework which integrates multi-sectoral and Ministerial interests. The approach of non-government organisations (NGOs) and international organisations (IOs) currently working on environmental projects is to achieve cooperation across Ministries through working groups, with projects providing a forum for discussion and joint learning. This is proving particularly successful at the provincial level. At the central level, however, the preliminary task of opening communication channels is the focus.

The general approach of the Ministry of Agriculture to resource management is top-down, regulatory and control oriented strategies based on the notion that it is the government’s responsibility to manage resources wisely. Weak enforcement and poor compliance are inherent problems. Rather than seeing the potential for villagers’ input into more sustainable, community based management models, most government officials blame villagers for resource degradation and are consequently frequently in conflictual relations with them, further undermining resource stability, although this is gradually changing. In the instances of both forestry and fisheries, the government is substituting long term economic growth for rapid and unsustainable asset stripping by selling off resource concessions within a private enterprise business-based approach to the management of natural resources. This fails to give sufficient consideration to environmental impacts and the long term needs of communities.

Despite favourable land to population ratios, the combination of economic liberalism, continuing security concerns and the limited existing capacity for sustainable development and environmental protection are negatively impacting on the environment. It has been assumed that Cambodia will eventually fall within the general governance of international mechanisms addressing global environmental problems. However, such strategies fail to acknowledge the distinctiveness of Cambodia’s recent past: the prolonged civil war; a severe lack of trained personnel in every sector and the immediate, pressing nature of Cambodia’s needs, such as food security. There is a need to establish adequate environmental planning capacity which is authorized to participate actively in the aid and investment formulation process. The training and recruitment of Cambodian professionals remains an urgent priority.8

Currently the government is in a transitional phase moving from socialist control and planning to market liberalism, which is undermining the centralised power of the government, but also enhancing resistance to devolution of power to the district and community level. The MoA is trying to restructure, bringing the provinces under central control. Presently, provincial departments are under the supervision of the provincial governor, not Phnom Penh, creating conflict and competition when trying to implement the policies of the centre at the provincial level. The budgetary dependence between Phnom Penh and the provinces is gradually decreasing as provincial ministries are being supported directly by IOs and NGOs. There is a contradictory set of pressures for both centralisation and decentralisation, with the old structure of top down management proving resilient.


4.1 The Ministry of Agriculture


The principal goal of the Ministry of Agriculture is to increase yields with the aim of ensuring food security at both the national and household level. Crop intensification has been proposed as a strategy to increase food security, through the use of improved rice varieties, improving soil fertility and the development of irrigated systems. However, moves toward intensification have resulted in an upward trend in the indiscriminate use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. Without sufficient knowledge of the environment, trained personnel or institutional and infrastructural framework with which to utilize fertilizers and pesticides effectively, food security in the long run may acutally be threatened by a resurgence of pests and destruction of natural enemies (see Table 1).

Table 1: Total Area Cultivated for Rice per Province 1967 and 1993.


Province

Area Cultivated

1967 (ha)

Area Cultivated

1993 (ha)

Difference

1967-93 (ha)

Banteay Meanchey




122,000

-

9Battambang

473,200

144,000

329,200

Takeo


243,700

216,000

27,700

TOTAL

2,509,500

1,834,000

816,600

Source: L. Tichit (1980). Bulletin of Statistics and Agricultural Studies, Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Planning 1993, quoted in Ministry of the Environment / UNDP (1994) “State of the Environment Report.” Phnom Penh.

There is a need for the administrative planning authorities within the MoA to ensure that crop intensification and the shift to market driven agricultural production systems, despite its encouragement of higher levels of production, must also allow for rural income diversification, possibly through the utilisation of the integrated development of short rotation cash crops, aquaculture, agroforestry, livestock and handicrafts. Limited access to reliable markets, inputs and affordable credit remain key constraints.

It should be ensured that agriculture does not encroach on forest resources, although this may be inevitable as a mixed strategy of increasing yields and expanding cultivated area may also be necessary. There is already some evidence from prelimary stages of aerial photograph interpretation by IRIC (Integrated Resource Information Centre) that this is occurring in Siem Reap province (pers. comm. 1995).

There is some debate amongst key actors in the agricultural sector, for example UNDP, IRRI, The Mekong Secretariat, OXFAM and others, concerning the best strategy for agricultural development. In the 1960’s Cambodian rice production was an extensive system, cultivating large areas but with low yields. Production was efficient because of the low level of inputs. Woodsworth and Dennis (1992) conclude that the continuing adoption of this traditional land extensive model of agriculture focusing on increasing yields, coupled with rapid population growth is likely to perpetuate the degradation of land resources and poverty.


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