The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recorded 841 instances of encroachment on protected land in 2022, imposing fines in 250 cases and sending 591 of them to court, according to its report.

The figures were revealed during the ministry’s annual meeting held on March 24 to summarise its past achievements and set plans for the coming year.

The ministry also seized and destroyed bush meat.

Agriculture minister Dith Tina said the ministry would continue to cooperate with national and sub-national authorities to step up the fight against the encroachment of state land.

“It will strengthen this work by distinguishing between landless people and those who knowingly encroach,” he said.

“Landless people will receive social land concessions, and offenders will face legal consequences, whether through administrative action, the courts or the Anti-Corruption Unit [ACU]. We want to erase the notion that ‘winners obtain land, losers obtain money’,” he said.

Tina was apparently referring to the widely held belief among offenders that they would receive the state or protected land that they managed to encroach and settle on – if they won cases – and would at least receive some money for relocation if they lost.

“The way it should be is that honest people obtain land, while offenders get punished,” he said.

The report said some challenges to forests continue to arise.

“The population has grown, both in size and economically. This has driven demand for agricultural land. That’s why forest cover has decreased and encroachment has increased,” it explained.

“The balance between enforcing the law and some group’s reliance on the forests remains a complex issue. This balance requires a lot of consideration as to how alternative employment can be provided. We also need to explore ways of facilitating timber imports to reduce the pressure on forest resources,” it said.

The ministry set the goal of harvesting 275,000 cubic metres of sustainable forestry timber, while registering 20,000ha of state land for broadcast stations and forestry restoration, economic concessions, forest communities and permanent forestry reserves, according to the report.

It also finalised a draft law on forests, planned management and the development of 10 forest communities.

Permits were granted for caring for and releasing wild animals in 100 locations.

Plans to support the development of the fourth economic pole in the Northwest spanning the provinces of Pursat, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Pailin were also drawn up.