Field crops on the river bank, flooded areas, seasonal
Source: FAO, UNDP, Mekong Secretariat “Cambodia Land Use Cover Atlas 1994”, utilizing LANDSAT images (1992/93) and LANDSAT 1985/87 and 1973/76.
Cambodia, unlike most other South East Asian nations, still retains most of its natural forest cover, having the largest intact deciduous forests in the region. Currently, though there is no effective forest policy or management plans in place leaving forest resources open to uncontrolled exploitation and degradation. Forests are the country’s main resource and foreign exchange earner and since 1989 when market reforms were put into place, large scale forest destruction has taken place, pointing to the relation between Cambodia’s deforestation and neighbouring countries, particularly Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam’s demand for commercial timber.
There are no reliable estimates of the extent of forest loss. The last forest inventory was completed in 1969, estimating forest resources to cover 73% of the country. Ministry of Agriculture figures, based on the Land Cover Atlas 1992-3 estimate that over 50% of Cambodia’s total land area is forested (10,341,800 hectares), but most sources including UNDP and Global Witness suggest that total commercially viable forest cover is closer to 30-35% of land area. It is known that extensive deforestation has taken place since 1992-3 which means that even the 30-35% figure may be in doubt (Press Briefing, December 1995, unpublished, Phnom Penh).
5.2.1 Current Forest Policy
The Department of Forestry, of the Ministry of Agriculture has a mandate for forest and wildlife management and protection. Presently there is no statement of forest policy and the capacity to manage is very low because of the shortage of trained staff particularly at the technical level,11 weak organisational structure, poor lines of command, lack of coordination between the centre and the provinces and an ill defined legal framework. Low salary levels within the civil service as a whole do not provide sufficient funds to enable employees needs to be met, thus most seek outside supplementary employment which acts to reduce their commitment and time spent at the Ministries.
In response to concerns over rapid loss of forest resources due to logging activities, particularly in border areas, The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) implemented a ban on the cutting of fresh timber on the first of January 1995, and allowed an amnesty to export already felled timber12 which expired on the 30 of April 1995. Despite logging bans though, the RGC is in the process of granting an additional nineteen new concessions on top of the existing eleven, totalling 6,464,021 hectares, over a third of the total land area or approximately 35% of land area, possibly including protected areas (See Table 3). This suggests that either protected areas are at risk from logging or that concessions have been sold in areas that have already lost forest cover and therefore not commercially viable (See Figure 2).
The Ministry of Agriculture, in conjunction with UNDP is preparing a Forestry Code to control commercial logging activities and intends to become a partner in the Cambodian Forestry Action Plan (CFAP) which will develop a National Forestry Policy. The First Prime Minister has claimed that Cambodia will follow guidelines set out by the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) which declares that managed forest has to be in areas of total control; concessions will only be awarded to companies that can demonstrate good forestry practice and that concession contracts outline strict management techniques. However, in Cambodia these criteria are not being followed. Concessions have been granted to companies in areas either controlled by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces or the Khmer Rouge, both of which are involved in timber trade and deny access to effective monitoring or policing of concessions. Concessions are being granted to companies without sound forest management records, for example Samling Company (Global Witness 1995). Despite the concessions government officials maintain that they are committed to protecting the environment.
New concessions are agreed to firstly by the two Prime Ministers and then signed by the Minister of Agriculture. No reference is made to the National Assembly (contrary to the constitution, Articile 90) or to any other Ministry, including the Ministries of Environment and Finance, nor to the provincial authorities in the affected areas. Global Witness (December 1995) cite the Thai company, Khukan Aroonsawat as an example of the extensive cooperation between the Thai Government and Military, the Khmer Rouge, the RGC, individuals within the RGC and the company itself to demonstrate the dynamics of logging processes in the north western border regions of Cambodia and more generally within the country.
Since 1992, the company has imported 100,000 mth3 of logs and expects to do so again in 1996, with logs mainly being cut north of Anlong Veng (a Khmer Rouge controlled area in Banteay Meanchey province). The Manager of the company stated that for top grade timber they pay the Khmer Rouge US $95 per m3 and US $105m3 to a senior RGC official. Of the RGC money, US $30 goes to the RGC, US $40 goes to senior RGC politicians, US $30 goes to the Thai Ministers of the Interior, Agriculture and to lower officials, with the remained going to lower level RGC and military officials. The Ministry of Finance do not possess sufficient authority and information to capture even a fraction of the timber revenue.
A large proportion of Cambodia’s forest resources are in areas with no effective control and being sold off on an unprecedented scale to foreign companies, in a short period of time, with a high degree of secrecy, threatening environmental degradation on a large scale. Samling, a Malay company, has recently been sold the largest concession so far, gaining forestry rights for sixty years to an area of over 800,000 hectares. In contradiction to guidelines set out in both the Tropical Timber Forest Plan and ITTO, an EIA was not carried out by Samling due to security concerns in the concession area. Despite this, the concession was granted. This further supports Global Witness’ (1995) conclusion that both the Royal Cambodian Government, The Khmer Rouge, the Ministry of Agriculture and Defense stand to gain from selling concession areas.
Following criticism, which began when the logging concessions were brought to light last year, the government said it would review the logging contracts. It has asked the UN and World Bank to conduct a forestry investory. The joint World Bank, UNDP and FAO mission to Cambodia in 1995 reviewed the RCG’s logging policies and advocates market-oriented reforms which could increase government yields by $100 million per year while concurrently enhancing the sustainability of the resource. Long term strategic recommendations include the deregulation of log allocation and trade, significantly higher timber royalties and improved technical and policy oversight of the sector. These recommendations seem somewhat simplistic and isolated from the dynamics of the forestry sector, which is already highly deregulated with resources flowing to those with both the power and the money to command their interests.
In the recent past Cambodia has experienced worsening floods and droughts, failures of the rice harvest and increasing siltation of water bodies particularly the Tonle Sap lake. Although no comprehensive statistics exist which relate deforestation to these phenomena, it does represent a pattern reflected elsewhere in the world related to increasing deforestation.