Cambodis's most crucial forests are disappearing at a rate of more than 2,000 square kilometres a year, as agricultural firms continue to harvest timber by illegal means in protected areas and national parks, according to a study from Washington-based Forest Trends.
The report, released yesterday evening, uses satellite imagery to link “the growing number of industrial agricultural development projects to the escalating destruction of Cambodian forests”.
Combining data culled from NASA satellite pictures of 32,053 hotspots during the 2012-13 dry season with the measurement of carbon emissions, Forest Trends determined that companies controlling ELCs were logging some of the country’s oldest and most valuable forests.
Those forests, the report says, fall not only on land designated for plantations – often stripped of trees then left simply abandoned – but in protected areas and national forests as well.
“The fact that permits for economic land concessions are being used as an unlawful vehicle to exhaust the remaining timber resources of the country at such a rapid rate represents a total system failure of the country’s forest protection laws,” Kerstin Canby, director of Forest Trends’ Forest Trade and Finance program, said in a statement.
The report says that in 2013, 2.6 million hectares of land, or 14 per cent of the entire country, was accounted for by economic land concessions (ELCs) – almost four times the amount held by companies in 2004.
However, the report notes that by 2015, this number had dropped to 2.2 million hectares, or about 12 per cent of Cambodia’s land, due in large part to the cancellation of a large land holding in Stung Treng.
Despite the government recognising that timber derived from converting forestland to plantations is Cambodia’s main source of deforestation, the report says the current “patchwork of regulations on the land use planning are spread across numerous, uncoordinated agricultural, forestry and other agencies, and are often seemingly arbitrarily applied by the authorities”.
The report suggests the use of such carbon-trading initiatives as REDD+ to help build monitoring networks that could detect wrongdoing, though REDD programs in the Kingdom and elsewhere have been met with scepticism and been slow to take hold.
Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture were unable to respond to the report’s findings before press time yesterday as they had not yet read the report.