The Ministry of Agriculture has created 10 community forests covering almost 15,000 hectares across three districts of Ratanakkiri province – almost all of them in areas that the rights group Adhoc argues have already been irrevocably degraded.
According to the April 30 edition of the government’s Royal Book, agriculture minister Chan Sarun signed into existence 10 new community forests – distributed throughout 11 areas for a total of 14,805 hectares – in Bakeo, Lumphat and Veun Sai districts.
The new decree “is aimed at managing, using, protecting, keeping and preserving bio-diversity, and the development of sustainable community forests using forest products and by-products for traditional and religious life,” the announcement says.
However, while new community forests are welcome, the measures were too little, too late, Adhoc coordinator Chhay Thy said.
“The government keeps creating this and that, but [doesn’t provide] any officers to implement it in practice,” he said.
According to Thy, who has visited all of the districts in question, and was there yesterday investigating ongoing logging, only 30 per cent of the forests in the affected districts remain. That, he said, is due to a lack of enforcement of existing government regulations, particularly those restricting economic land concessions to areas that have already been degraded.
“The law states clearly that they must give economic land concessions to private companies in degraded forest, but they are buying the luxury wood for sale [from concessionaires], so it means that all the companies have received the land in thick forest to be able to cut the logs,” he said, referring to a recent deal exposed by a Global Witness report in which tycoon Try Pheap was allegedly offered a deal to buy logs felled within concessions.
But Provincial Governor Pav Hormphan said that the new community forests were evidence that the government doesn’t “just give economic land concessions without any thought for the community”.
Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.