The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has confirmed it is re-examining
the draft community forestry sub-decree after the document was rejected by the Council
of Ministers (CoM).
In an unusual move, the CoM asked MAFF to review the sub-decree after NGOs and forestry
communities objected to MAFF's rewritten version. NGO Forum sent a letter to the
CoM in March 2003 complaining that the document sent for approval in May 2002 substantially
reduced the rights of forest communities.
MAFF initially told NGOs it would address their concerns in a prakas once the sub-decree
was passed, but the CoM's rejection means it will now likely have to re-examine some
of those issues. The draft sub-decree has been almost seven years in the making.
"The sub-decree will need a commitment from government to put back all the details
taken out," said one community forestry advocate, speaking anonymously. "NGOs
will have to hammer and push and work really hard to have the sub-decree passed."
NGOs initially praised the approach taken by MAFF's Department of Forestry and Wildlife
(DFW), which consulted widely on the original draft. But NGO Forum's subsequent letter
to the CoM described the reworked draft as "a significant step backwards",
adding that "on almost every issue of importance to local communities, their
rights have been diminished".
It criticized language inserted by MAFF, which gave the ministry arbitrary power
over the community forestry process. One provision, under 'Roles and Duties' of community
forestry members, instructed communities simply to "follow the instructions
of the Forest Administration and MAFF".
The draft also changed the category of land eligible for community forests from 'state
land' to 'state public property'. That alteration meant that land concessions-a catch-all
designation that could include canceled logging concessions-were excluded.
Another objection was over MAFF's plan to tax products from community forests, thereby
jeopardizing the under-funded ventures and rural livelihoods.
NGO Forum also noted that several vital passages were removed from the draft. The
entire section on law enforcement and forest protection was deleted, as were provisions
that gave roles to the Ministry of Environment, the APSARA authority and the Ministry
of Land Management.
But Jurgen Fichtenau, a community forestry advisor to the Cambodian-German Forestry
Project at DFW, said the government may have finally turned a corner.
"After the protest in front of DFW [last December], the government realized
how urgent community forestry is," he said. "There is definitely a move
to yield to international pressure."
Just 83,000 hectares, or less than one percent, of the country's 11 million hectares
of woodland are community forests. DFW estimates that 226 of them now exist, involving
about half a million people.
The World Food Programme estimates almost one million Cambodians depend on forests
for their livelihoods. However, a 2002 forestry study reported: "The government
tends to be ready to hand over either barren land or degraded forest land for rehabilitation,
but does not believe in management of mature forests by communities."
The importance of community forestry in reducing poverty has also been recognized
by the multilaterals. Both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank included
it as a priority in their poverty reduction strategies.
The problems with forestry do not stop at the sub-decree. Illegal logging has increased
in recent months, said sacked forestry monitor Global Witness. Last month the NGO
said companies linked to senior government officials and the military had been illegally
cutting and transporting the timber at night.
Also, the concession management plans-the last roadblock to lifting a 2002 logging
moratorium-have been so problematic that at least half have been recommended for
immediate cancellation, said Yann Petrucci, a DFW forestry planning specialist.
Fichtenau said two-thirds of community forests have no mature trees or are in severely
degraded forests. None is located in "undisturbed forests", which reflects
the near absence of virgin timber. He attributed that to inexperience.
"The government is very hesitant to hand over any of the forests," he said.
"If you want to prove to the government the value of community forestry, there
should be some studies. It is very, very important."