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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Forestry bill back to MAFF

Forestry bill back to MAFF

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has confirmed it is re-examining

the draft community forestry sub-decree after the document was rejected by the Council

of Ministers (CoM).

In an unusual move, the CoM asked MAFF to review the sub-decree after NGOs and forestry

communities objected to MAFF's rewritten version. NGO Forum sent a letter to the

CoM in March 2003 complaining that the document sent for approval in May 2002 substantially

reduced the rights of forest communities.

MAFF initially told NGOs it would address their concerns in a prakas once the sub-decree

was passed, but the CoM's rejection means it will now likely have to re-examine some

of those issues. The draft sub-decree has been almost seven years in the making.

"The sub-decree will need a commitment from government to put back all the details

taken out," said one community forestry advocate, speaking anonymously. "NGOs

will have to hammer and push and work really hard to have the sub-decree passed."

NGOs initially praised the approach taken by MAFF's Department of Forestry and Wildlife

(DFW), which consulted widely on the original draft. But NGO Forum's subsequent letter

to the CoM described the reworked draft as "a significant step backwards",

adding that "on almost every issue of importance to local communities, their

rights have been diminished".

It criticized language inserted by MAFF, which gave the ministry arbitrary power

over the community forestry process. One provision, under 'Roles and Duties' of community

forestry members, instructed communities simply to "follow the instructions

of the Forest Administration and MAFF".

The draft also changed the category of land eligible for community forests from 'state

land' to 'state public property'. That alteration meant that land concessions-a catch-all

designation that could include canceled logging concessions-were excluded.

Another objection was over MAFF's plan to tax products from community forests, thereby

jeopardizing the under-funded ventures and rural livelihoods.

NGO Forum also noted that several vital passages were removed from the draft. The

entire section on law enforcement and forest protection was deleted, as were provisions

that gave roles to the Ministry of Environment, the APSARA authority and the Ministry

of Land Management.

But Jurgen Fichtenau, a community forestry advisor to the Cambodian-German Forestry

Project at DFW, said the government may have finally turned a corner.

"After the protest in front of DFW [last December], the government realized

how urgent community forestry is," he said. "There is definitely a move

to yield to international pressure."

Just 83,000 hectares, or less than one percent, of the country's 11 million hectares

of woodland are community forests. DFW estimates that 226 of them now exist, involving

about half a million people.

The World Food Programme estimates almost one million Cambodians depend on forests

for their livelihoods. However, a 2002 forestry study reported: "The government

tends to be ready to hand over either barren land or degraded forest land for rehabilitation,

but does not believe in management of mature forests by communities."

The importance of community forestry in reducing poverty has also been recognized

by the multilaterals. Both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank included

it as a priority in their poverty reduction strategies.

The problems with forestry do not stop at the sub-decree. Illegal logging has increased

in recent months, said sacked forestry monitor Global Witness. Last month the NGO

said companies linked to senior government officials and the military had been illegally

cutting and transporting the timber at night.

Also, the concession management plans-the last roadblock to lifting a 2002 logging

moratorium-have been so problematic that at least half have been recommended for

immediate cancellation, said Yann Petrucci, a DFW forestry planning specialist.

Fichtenau said two-thirds of community forests have no mature trees or are in severely

degraded forests. None is located in "undisturbed forests", which reflects

the near absence of virgin timber. He attributed that to inexperience.

"The government is very hesitant to hand over any of the forests," he said.

"If you want to prove to the government the value of community forestry, there

should be some studies. It is very, very important."

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