Officials in Kampong Speu say there has been an increase in the use of charcoal stoves for commercial purposes - a trend conservation advocates fear could lead to further deforestation.
Charcoal produced by a charcoal stove in Kampong Speu province last week.
CONSERVATION advocates and government officials have expressed concern about a reported increase in charcoal stoves being used for commercial purposes in Kampong Speu province, a trend they say could accelerate deforestation there.
Kampong Speu Governor Kang Heang said the production of charcoal has long been a second source of income - after farming - for many families in the province, but he said there recently had been an increase in the number of families illegally selling their charcoal rather than using it themselves or trading it locally.
He could not provide data on the number of commercial charcoal stoves in the province.
Lim Phart, 51, who lives in Kampong Speu's Thpong district, estimated that the number of charcoal stoves increased from "just over 100" to 500 stoves in the district in the last year.
The typical charcoal stove operator uses 280 trees each year, he said.
Chea Samang, deputy director of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said officials had cracked down on charcoal producers who were selling their charcoal last year. He said they had stopped charcoal production at "hundreds" of stoves in six provinces - Kratie, Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu - and "educated" the owners "to stop cutting down trees".
He said officials were considering conducting a similar operation at some point this year.
We need to produce charcoal for the sake of our livelihood.
"We will fine them if they are still producing charcoal as a business because we warned them to stop," he said.
A threat to forests
Seng Teak, country director for the global conservation group WWF, said deforestation resulting from increased charcoal production could threaten wildlife habitats in the province.
"I think that the natural forestry resources will be destroyed by the charcoal producers if the number of them is increasing," he said.
He called on Cambodians to reduce their dependence on charcoal and to use biogas and solar energy products. But Lim Phart said these alternative energy sources were too expensive for many people in the province.
He said the increase in charcoal producers in Kampong Speu had driven down the price of charcoal but that he planned to continue operating his stove, the earnings from which he said had helped him pay tuition fees for his four children.
"We have a small farmland, and our harvest is never enough to eat, so we need to produce charcoal for the sake of our livelihood," he said.
"We can earn about 5 million riels (US$1,213) from charcoal each year."