Forest land in Asia-Pacific countries has grown overall since 2002, according to a study released last week, but Cambodia was one of only three countries surveyed to buck the trend.
Out of 14 countries included in the study by the Regional Community Forestry Training Center (RECOFTC), only Laos and Papua New Guinea had lost more forest than Cambodia.
Overall, the report found that across the 14 countries, forest land had increased from nearly 492 million hectares in 2002 to more than 535 million hectares in 2012. Cambodia lost 420,000 hectares, amounting to about 3.8 per cent of the total.
The figures fell far short of another recent study carried out by the University of Maryland and based on satellite data, which estimated that about seven per cent of Cambodia’s forests had been logged in the past 12 years.
The report also looked at the extent to which governments have given control of forests over to local communities.
The report’s lead author, Dr David Gritten, said that the rapid deforestation in Cambodia in recent years cannot be attributed to forest community activities.
“For Cambodia, the main cause of deforestation is related to logging in the agricultural sector, such as economic land concessions,” he said. “We strongly believe if the community has the right of occupation . . . and management, they will control the forest sustainably.”
Gritten’s report gives Cambodia a “weak” rating in terms of giving control of forests to local communities, something the government insists is changing.
The Ministry of Environment announced on Wednesday that 120 protected community areas had been established covering more than 160,000 hectares of forest.
Thorn Sarath, deputy director of the environment ministry’s planning department, said that while the government would try to meet its plans to transfer about 18 per cent of forests to local communities, development remained a priority.
“We need land for agricultural crops for safety and food security, and now we have more than 10 million hectares of forest,” he said.