More than 100,000 hectares of forest have been replanted across the country since 2008, according to a government report – but about 90 per cent of that amount can be chalked up to private plantations.
Produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the report, obtained yesterday, claims that rather than forest cover decreasing – as monitoring groups and media outlets regularly report – it has increased, largely due to private companies’ industrial planting schemes.
Since 2008, 104,377 hectares were reforested, with a vast majority of about 93,000 hectares attributed to private companies planting trees such as acacia and palms, which spur “economic growth”, according to Thorn Saret, director of the administration department at the Agriculture Ministry.
“Regarding the criticism from NGOs, the leadership has just explained how it works, but we have to check the techniques of how forests are managed,” he said without elaborating.
Environmental groups have in the past staunchly criticised government calculations of forest cover, which include species that they say cannot replace the complex ecosystems lost to rampant logging.
Ouch Leng, director of the Human Rights Task Force, said the government used small-scale reforestation schemes to gain popularity while ignoring the well-documented large-scale deforestation of the country. Leng added that Forest Day, marked this week with King Norodom Sihamoni symbolically planting trees and calling for greater efforts to protect Cambodia’s forests, was one example of this.
At a ceremony, King Sihamoni said that “the forest is the main source of all lives on our planet”.
Leng said Forest Day should not be held in Cambodia.
“It should be done in a country that conserves its forest, because they are rushing to log in our country,” he said. “They have logged luxury wood, but they plant acacia trees. They do not need to grow them, and it is leading to land degradation.”
The government has set a target of achieving 60 per cent forest cover by 2015 to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals.
However, studies conducted by independent researchers last year showed a continuing drop in forest cover over the past several decades, with one study estimating that about a third of Cambodian forest had been lost since 1973.