As illegal logging continues to take a toll on the country’s woodlands, civil society groups yesterday called on the government to stay true to its commitment of providing an extra two million hectares of community forest by 2029.
During a two-day conference in the capital, participants also called for a system of community forest management that is more inclusive of indigenous villagers living on community forest land.
Despite a national forestry program promising to allocate two million hectares of land as community forest within 15 years, such forest is still not being adequately managed, said Long Serey, president of Non-Timber Forest Production Organisation, a conservation NGO based in Ratanakkiri province.
“I’m surprised to hear the government even has a management plan for the community forest, because illegal logging continues nationwide,” Serey said.
Koen Everaert, co-chairman of the conference, noted that communities should be allowed to participate in the management of forests they rely on.
“Forest clearing continues partly because the communal forestry listing process has taken too much time,” he said.
On September 25 last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the government would focus on granting social land concessions for landless citizens during the fifth mandate rather than granting economic land concessions (ELCs) to private companies.
The process of distributing communal land titles has consistently been characterised by critics as ineffective or drawn out.
“Minority groups need help getting communal land titles to prove their ownership over the land or this will keep happening,” said Moen Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labour program.
According to Long Ratanakoma, deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s department of community forestry, his office isn’t solely responsible for protecting community forests.
“The government does not have the ability to work alone. We need time, human resources and money,” Ratanakoma said, adding that since 1994 a total of 400,167 hectares of community forest has been created.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AMELIA WOODSIDE