Illegal burning of rice stubble and land at the periphery of forests continues to occur throughout the Kingdom’s rural areas, especially in the north and northeast regions, according to officials who documented the activities on site.

Wong Devorn, a civil servant and history professor, told The Post that he typically accompanies site-visit missions in the provinces three or four times per month which affords him opportunities to observe burning activities first-hand.

“I saw a satellite image showing a map of Cambodia’s regional heat signatures on January 27. At first, I could not believe it, so I decided to accompany officials on site visits between January 30 and February 3.

“We went to the northern regions of Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey and Oddar Meanchey provinces. I found that almost everywhere, people are burning rice stubble, and I have documented it with photos,” Devorn said.

He observed that there had been many cases of burning rice stubble after harvests indicated by heat map signatures across the country over the last three years. He claimed that international surveys at the end of January identified nearly 3,000 sites of burning activities in Cambodia, the most in all Asian countries.

“Khmer farmers should change their behaviour immediately. They should stop burning after harvest because it seriously pollutes the environment, especially PM2.5 smoke and dust. Farmers should collect the rice stubble to grow mushrooms or compost it for fertiliser,” he said.

Devorn said local residents, when asked, explained that they burned the rice stubble because it fertilised the soil and made it easy to cultivate. They did not understand that burning leads to forest fires and toxic air pollution.

He said the responsibility to prevent the problem starts with each citizen.

Chea Hean, director of the environmental watchdog Anti-Corruption, Natural Resource Protection and Civil Rights Protection, agreed that the problems of burning activities and forest encroachment for crop land still occurred pervasively.

“Forest burning activities to clear land for housing or rice cultivation, if not prevented or stopped in time, pose serious risks of wildfires which can affect many natural resources,” he said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the ministry continues to disseminate messages and implement measures to prevent wildfires as well as stopping illegal burning activities.

“Forest fires happen each year in the Kingdom’s natural protected areas and biodiversity conservation corridors, especially in the dry season,” he said.

Pheaktra said the most common causes of dry season forest fires were encroachment for agriculture or resettlement, wildlife poaching and human negligence.

He said the ministry had instructed provincial and local administrations and environment department officials to implement outreach and educational measures and coordinate with local communities to stop and prevent forest encroachment and burning activities.