Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday blamed the Kingdom’s rising population as a factor contributing to deforestation.
He also told government critics who lived on deforested land to return it to the authorities for replanting.
Meeting over 20,000 garment workers in Kampong Cham’s Cheung Prey district, the prime minister said that after the collapse of the Khmer Rogue on January 7, 1979, Cambodia had only about five million people. But now, he said, the figure had increased to over 16 million.
He said that even though some people lived on forest land and had cleared it to extend their farms for cultivation, they continued blaming the government for deforestation.
“Some people living on the land which previously had forest cover criticise [the government] for causing forest loss. Therefore they should hand over the land they are living on so that we can replant trees,” he said.
Last year, the Forestry Administration recorded 1,428 cases of forestry and wildlife crimes, and land clearings. Of those, 650 cases resulted in a fine and 778 cases were sent to court for legal proceedings, according to a 2017 report by the Ministry of Agriculture, published on January 25 of this year.
While the report gives no data on forest land cleared by the people and traders, it says the Ministry of Agriculture had established 35 national sapling plantation and implemented forest restoration initiatives, covering over 411,000 hectares throughout the Kingdom.
Ministry of Agriculture spokesman Srey Vuthy told The Post that due to rising demographics and growing demands by consumers, some farmers cleared forest land illegally to extend their farmland, and this contributed to deforestation.
“To prevent such loss of forest land, we are working to improve enforcement of the Forestry Law by putting a halt to such matters and ending illegal logging,” Vuthy said.
He said the ministry would seek development partners and private sector companies to invest in reforesting areas.
Earlier, Hun Sen said that when the population grew, the demand for land for cultivation purposes also increased.
He said in the 1980s, Cambodia had one million hectares of cultivated land, but because of population growth and the demand of land to cultivate produce, this had now increased to four million hectares.
“Where did the land come from? Deforestation and land clearing keeps happening. Some say the forest is gone. But you can also see the forest is gone because huge tracts of previously forested land have become the farmer’s land,” he said.