Chopped-up remains of once-plentiful mangroves
ENVIRONMENT officials in Koh Kong are trying to save what is left of the province's
mangrove forests half of which have been cleared either for shrimp farming or high
quality charcoal production.
The attempts come nearly five years after warnings by the Ministry of Environment
that the clearing of the forests would irreparably damage fisheries and wildlife
in the area.
Of the province's original 10,000 ha of mangrove forest, only 5,000 now remain.
Initially, clearing the land for shrimp farming was the major problem. With the collapse
of the industry, no new land is being taken; however, charcoal production from mangrove
trees is rapidly eating into the remaining forests.
Rong Plamkesan, Koh Kong governor, said that he will order a halt to any more clearing
and will instruct environment department workers to be especially protective of areas
where the trees are starting to grow back.
"We have to meet the environmental targets which are development and preservation,"
While the move has been welcomed by environmentalists, one NGO worker labeled it
window dressing for the international donor community particularly with the meeting
in Tokyo coming up.
But he added that even if the reasons for the ban were cynical, the fact there was
an attempt to stop the destruction of the forests was a good thing.
He said there now needed to be a move to find alternative work for the people who
have been surviving on charcoal production so they are not tempted to surreptitiously
continue the destruction.
Some areas in the province have managed to stop the harvest of mangroves for charcoal
production for the moment.
But locals said that there are other areas where the trade is protected by the military
and those cases are more difficult to deal with.
Sao Sin Thon, director of the Koh Kong Environment Department, blamed the charcoal
trade on outsiders, saying the workers were from other provinces and the buyers from
He said they are trying to crack down on the trade by telling village chiefs to notify
commune chiefs of strangers who move into their area.
He said the matter is then dealt with at a local level - if the new people try
and get involved in illegal activities they are not allowed to settle there and are
"If some problem appears in a commune then the commune chief has to take responsibility,"
One such worker, An Samnang, 35, from Prey Veng province, has just had his oven smashed
by the authorities.
He said he started producing charcoal when the crops failed in his home village,
but that the work was risky and involved living in a malarial area. However, it was
cheap to get involved and allowed him to make a living.
He said he was financed into the business by a charcoal buyer who then took half
his income of about 20,000 baht a month. This left him with 10,000 baht a month to
pay his three workers and the 1000 baht in bribes for police and environment staff.
However he is unsure of how he will survive following the authorities actions which
he says has left him destitute.
"I will go back home after this crackdown but now we have a problem because
we have no cash," he said.