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Cambodia logs top spot

Cambodia's tree cover loss correlates with global rubber prices
Cambodia's tree cover loss correlates with global rubber prices. SOURCE: WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE

Cambodia logs top spot

Forest loss in Cambodia has accelerated faster than any other country in the world since 2001, according to a leading resource-monitoring initiative.

Satellite data released by Global Forest Watch (GFW) suggest that Cambodia has experienced the highest rate of tree-cover loss in the world over the past 14 years, beyond that of normal heavy hitters Brazil and Indonesia, with the Kingdom quadrupling its tree cover loss in 2014 as compared to 2001.

The data, which come from the University of Maryland, assert that Cambodia has had a 14.4 per cent increase in its rate of forest loss per year.

The next biggest offender, Sierra Leone, experienced a 12.6 per cent rate, while ASEAN neighbours Malaysia and Vietnam both recorded 6.1 per cent rates of tree-cover loss during the same time period.

Although the data do not account for tree cover gain and only measure the removal and death of trees, the data nonetheless are “of great concern”, the groups says.

“Since 2001, tree cover loss in Cambodia accelerated faster than in any other country in the world,” said an analysis by the World Resources Institute. “Although Cambodia’s tree cover loss peaked in 2010, it remains extremely high.”

According to Global Forest Watch, Cambodia lost a total of 237,875 hectares of tree cover in 2010. Since then, the numbers have declined, though the country still recorded a loss of 177,969 hectares in 2014.

Further, Cambodia’s forestry sector contributed to approximately 3.2 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2011, or $390.3 million.

Additionally, the average rate of tree cover loss in the Mekong region – Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and China’s Yunnan province – rose by more than five times between 2001 and 2014.

The analysis also cited past data connecting rubber’s role in driving Cambodian deforestation.

At least three scientific studies have been published this year pinpointing rubber plantation development as a primary cause of deforestation.

One of the studies, published in April by the University of East Anglia, showed that rubber plantations in countries such as Cambodia pose a grave threat to the region’s wildlife and wider ecosystem, especially given that concessions have been given to rubber producers in supposedly protected areas.

“Protected areas have already been lost to rubber plantations,” a statement accompanying the report reads. “For example, more than 70 per cent of the 75,000 hectare Snoul Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia was cleared for rubber between 2009 and 2013.”

The WRI analysis also pointed to both Global Forest Watch data and World Bank figures to demonstrate that Cambodian tree loss largely corresponds with the ups and downs of the global price of rubber.

For instance, global rubber prices were surging around 2010, the year Cambodia lost the greatest forest cover, and peaked in 2011 before falling again.

At the same time, Cambodian deforestation appeared to have experienced a downward trend.

While he did not agree that deforestation and rubber plantation development were directly correlated, Ministry of Agriculture Undersecretary of State Eang Sophalleth did say that rising rubber prices certainly influenced Cambodia’s development plans.

“Rubber plantations were included in our development strategy to encourage investors to invest in Cambodia’s raw materials,” he said. “But it depends on how you define [deforestation].

If the government allows people to clear land, it’s legal. ‘Deforestation’ implies it’s illegal.”

He added that the country’s rubber plantation development was in the national interest, since it is intended to bring the Kingdom up to speed with “developed nations”.

“We are promoting rubber [to create jobs],” he said. “Nobody wants to deforest or cause environmental damage, but there is always a balance.”

However, Nigel Sizer, global director of WRI’s Forests Program, said Sophalleth’s response was “a common refrain from officials, not only in emerging and developing countries, but even some of the world’s richer countries”.

“There’s not really a trade-off. Improved land-use planning, addressing tenure disputes with local communities, better licensing management, and so on, can lead to dramatically expanded production,” he added.

“If you want to sustain the industry, these plantations and the basic agricultural and rural economy, you need to take care of the local forests.”

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