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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mangroves swamped by business

Mangroves swamped by business

mangrove.jpg
mangrove.jpg

Chopped-up remains of once-plentiful mangroves

ENVIRONMENT officials in Koh Kong are trying to save what is left of the province's

mangrove forests half of which have been cleared either for shrimp farming or high

quality charcoal production.

The attempts come nearly five years after warnings by the Ministry of Environment

that the clearing of the forests would irreparably damage fisheries and wildlife

in the area.

Of the province's original 10,000 ha of mangrove forest, only 5,000 now remain.

Initially, clearing the land for shrimp farming was the major problem. With the collapse

of the industry, no new land is being taken; however, charcoal production from mangrove

trees is rapidly eating into the remaining forests.

Rong Plamkesan, Koh Kong governor, said that he will order a halt to any more clearing

and will instruct environment department workers to be especially protective of areas

where the trees are starting to grow back.

"We have to meet the environmental targets which are development and preservation,"

he said.

While the move has been welcomed by environmentalists, one NGO worker labeled it

window dressing for the international donor community particularly with the meeting

in Tokyo coming up.

But he added that even if the reasons for the ban were cynical, the fact there was

an attempt to stop the destruction of the forests was a good thing.

He said there now needed to be a move to find alternative work for the people who

have been surviving on charcoal production so they are not tempted to surreptitiously

continue the destruction.

Some areas in the province have managed to stop the harvest of mangroves for charcoal

production for the moment.

But locals said that there are other areas where the trade is protected by the military

and those cases are more difficult to deal with.

Sao Sin Thon, director of the Koh Kong Environment Department, blamed the charcoal

trade on outsiders, saying the workers were from other provinces and the buyers from

Thailand.

He said they are trying to crack down on the trade by telling village chiefs to notify

commune chiefs of strangers who move into their area.

He said the matter is then dealt with at a local level - if the new people try

and get involved in illegal activities they are not allowed to settle there and are

sent away.

"If some problem appears in a commune then the commune chief has to take responsibility,"

he said.

One such worker, An Samnang, 35, from Prey Veng province, has just had his oven smashed

by the authorities.

He said he started producing charcoal when the crops failed in his home village,

but that the work was risky and involved living in a malarial area. However, it was

cheap to get involved and allowed him to make a living.

He said he was financed into the business by a charcoal buyer who then took half

his income of about 20,000 baht a month. This left him with 10,000 baht a month to

pay his three workers and the 1000 baht in bribes for police and environment staff.

However he is unsure of how he will survive following the authorities actions which

he says has left him destitute.

"I will go back home after this crackdown but now we have a problem because

we have no cash," he said.

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