Government officials yesterday laid the blame for Cambodia’s deforestation on villagers gathering firewood.
“Every day, they need fuel for cooking – that’s a lot of logging,” Chheng Kimsun, director general of the Forestry Administration, said at a workshop aimed at addressing sustainable forest management.
Gathered at the Asia Forest Workshop in the capital, stakeholders from the government and Japan’s Kyushu University skirted issues of economic land concessions and illegal logging.
“If the people have a job to do, then they will have no time to encroach on the forest,” Kimsun said. He cited as an example a pilot project started this year in Siem Reap where farmers are given cows and instructed to use the waste as fuel. “They do not have time to log any longer; they have enough income and they are happy,” Kimsun said.
Than Sarath, spokesperson for the Forestry Administration, also held villagers responsible for forest destruction.
“They are using land on a large scale for agriculture,” Sarath said.
But Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoch, said that while local villagers own between half and three hectares of land in each village in Ratanakkiri, rich officials and powerful companies own hundreds or thousands of hectares.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries website states that, as of 2010, 956,690 hectares of land have been granted as economic land concessions.
According to Thy and other land activists, deforestation has more to do with the corruption of officials charged with protecting the forest than with villagers’ logging small plots.
“They do not practice the law properly, and sometimes the officials themselves are involved in the deforestation,” he said. “Some villagers are also urged by the rich and powerful to log and sell the timber for them.”