Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Calls to halt ‘reforestation’ plan

Calls to halt ‘reforestation’ plan

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prey Lang community members speak to police officers outside the Korean Embassy, where they gathered yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Calls to halt ‘reforestation’ plan

Fourteen community representatives speaking for thousands of families yesterday petitioned the South Korean Embassy, Environment Ministry and Forestry Administration to halt the expansion of a controversial “reforestation” project by a Korean company situated between the protected Prey Lang forest and Mekong River.

Their petition – which calls for the reforestation concession to be converted into a Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) protected area – was not accepted by the South Korean Embassy, though Cambodian authorities received the request.

The 14 represent communities affected by the joint project between the Forestry Administration and Korean company Think Biotech, which hopes to convert about 34,000 hectares of ostensibly “degraded” land in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces into a timber plantation.

The project, approved in 2010 and started in 2012, was billed as “sustainable” and “eco-environmental”, but during a Post visit to the site last year, villagers inside the concession’s boundaries complained of land grabbing, and experts have called into question its environmental benefits.

Several thousand hectares in the concession’s south, around Kratie’s Kampong Cham commune, have already been cleared and planted, impacting about 400 families who had long used the land for farming and cultivating resin trees.

As the company moves north, some 1,500 families in Kratie’s Boeung Char commune and Stung Treng’s Siem Bok district fear a similar fate, according to yesterday’s petition.

Think Biotech, owned by South Korean weapons manufacturer Hanwha, contends the land is “degraded forest”, however, the community and researchers contend that the company underestimated timber stocks at the site and was clearing “rich forest”.

“The company never stops logging for good wood,” said Sam Nou, a member of the Prey Lang Community Network who came to the capital from his home near the site in Kratie.

The project was facilitated by a 2009 memorandum of understanding between Cambodia’s Forestry Administration and the Korean government’s Forest Service to attract investment in reforestation as part of a broader agenda of climate change mitigation.

Villagers say the South Korean government has a responsibility to take action.“I am very disappointed,” said community representative Hul Vet. “The embassy should have accepted the petition . . . the company will continue clearing as usual.”

Reached yesterday, a representative of the South Korean Embassy declined to comment.Via email, Director of Think Biotech (Cambodia) Chung Hwanki said the company was respecting villagers’ farming rights within its boundaries and would follow regulations in negotiations with those who owned resin trees.

He argued that the plantation created “healthy and abundant” forest to supply timber to take pressure off of protected areas.

However, in a recent paper, Cambodia-based anthropologist Courtney Work criticised the use of climate change mitigation as a justification for “green washing” for-profit monoculture plantations that ride roughshod over local villagers’ livelihoods.

The paper compares Think Biotech to the Korean-run Tumring REDD+ project on the western side of Prey Lang. While the latter project may not have delivered strong results in terms of environmental protection, the study found, it at least mitigated the social impacts by paying affected communities to protect forests.

Yesterday, Work said “companies are using this climate change discourse to justify development as usual with high carbon emissions and dramatic land conversions to mono-crop agriculture, which is devastating for biodiversity”.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince injured, wife dies after accident

    THE wife of former First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Ouk Phalla, 39, died while the prince was “severely” injured following a road accident in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nub district on Sunday morning, officials said. Rananriddh, who is also the president of the Funcinpec

  • Bun Heang mocks US, threatens its citizens in scathing open letter

    After being hit with sanctions from the US Department of Treasury, Cambodian General Hing Bun Heang said he would retaliate against any US national who does not respect his country’s sovereignty, has ambitions to invade Cambodia or incites “traitors” in the Kingdom to do

  • Ranariddh 'seriously injured', his wife dies in accident in Preah Sihanouk

    THE wife of former first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh has died. Ouk Phalla succumbed to injuries sustained in a traffic accident on National Road 4 in Preah Sihanouk’s Prey Nub district this morning. She and the prince were immediately rushed to the Preah Sihanouk

  • US slammed over BGU head as Foreign Ministry says sanctions violate international principles

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC) has condemned the US Department of Treasury for its sanctions, announced on Tuesday, against Cambodian General Hing Bun Heang for his alleged role in infringing human rights. In a statement, the ministry said it is disturbing