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Community forests fall short

Logs are hauled onto a Vietnamese transporter in O’Tang for delivery to Vietnam in February.
Logs are hauled onto a Vietnamese transporter in O’Tang for delivery to Vietnam in February. EIA

Community forests fall short

Cambodia's system of community forests is being hampered by excessive bureaucratic burdens, poor communication, a lack of incentives and the “massive” external pressures of logging and land conflicts, a new report has found.

In their study Collective Action on Forest Governance: An Institutional Analysis of the Cambodian Community Forestry System, researchers Joel Persson and Martin Prowse break down the workings of two community forests in Kratie province and find the local committees tasked with managing them were rendered largely ineffective in conserving their area’s natural resources.

Firstly the study, set for publication in the October edition of the Forestry and Economics journal, finds that participation in the committees, set up under the Forestry Administration, excluded women and poorer households, with men, particularly larger landowners, attending the most meetings of the groups.

Moreover, activities such as monitoring and enforcement were “ad hoc and arbitrary”, with the committees largely reliant on local authorities to resolve disputes, dependent on NGOs for support and often left at the mercy of the illegal logging with “backing from powerful political or commercial actors”.

The high costs of following the rules, the “cumbersome procedures” of managing the site and poor communication added to what the researchers called an “institutional malaise” with the groups.

“Collective action activities will only be effective if the incentives for effective forest governance are addressed,” it stated.

While the study only focuses on one commune, a newly leaked document attesting to a $15,000 deal between representatives of Ratanakkiri’s Samut Krom village and a timber trader to allow Vietnamese-backed logging in the community’s forest appears to add further weight to its critique.

The deal was first reported by The Post in May in a story exposing a “systematic” Vietnam-backed logging operation in Cambodia’s eastern provinces, which saw more than 300,000 cubic metres of timber illegally smuggled across the border, according to research by the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The contract, leaked to The Post, is between a trader identified as Marech Theub and Samut Krom village Chief Kamphor Savat, his deputy Bun Theanson and members of the community forest committee Than Mheul and Kham Masak.

It offers timber at two mountains within the community forest, which is inside Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.

Reached yesterday, Mheul acknowledged, and defended, the deal, claiming villagers agreed to the arrangement and, further, that $7,000 of the money was spent on a new meeting hall, while $25 was given to each family.

“How is it illegal? Since the superiors and powerful people can all do it, why can’t other people do it?” he said.

The village chief and his deputy, among seven local officials being sued by NGOs over logging and land clearing in the area, were unreachable yesterday.

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