The public has been urged to stop using fires to collect bees, catch animals or clear land in forests.
In a letter dated January 20, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said burning grasses and other unsanctioned activities like harvesting forests or clearing them for agriculture or settlements increase risks of wildfires which endangers communities, especially during the dry season.
“The ministry notes that forest fires every year result in major losses of forest resources and mangroves and spread to rice paddies and villages. They cause environmental destruction which also damages rural economies and the national economy and wastes natural resources,” it said.
The ministry has demanded the cessation of logging, clearing and burning in forests and mangroves to exploit land for crops or for other purposes.
Agriculture departments throughout the country are authorised to take legal action against anyone found burning mangrove or forest land or settling on burned lands in contravention of the law.
Oddar Meanchey provincial agriculture department director Soth Sisokheang noted that people had traditionally burnt rice stubble after harvest every year. But this year, burning activities had declined significantly after people had learnt that burning the stubble was not as productive as ploughing it into the soil.
“After being instructed, some farmers have stopped burning rice stubble and instead plough it under the soil. It proves beneficial as it becomes fertilizer,” he said.
Sisokheang explained that most forest fires were not caused by farmers but by people who endeavoured to burn the forests to exploit the cleared land. The participation of all stakeholders is needed to ensure the work of protecting these lands is carried out strictly and efficiently, he said.
“Concerning the forest burning, more participation and collaboration are needed. I cannot do it alone,” he said.
Sisokheang added that arresting arsonists is difficult. When fires start, specialists are immediately deployed to extinguish them, but perpetrators will have already escaped.
Koh Kong provincial agriculture department director E Meng Leang said the problems of forest fires in the province were often small scale, making it easier to intervene and extinguish them. The public had also responded cooperatively after specialists had done so and instructed them to protect the environment.
“In general, specialists must follow people – bee-collectors, vine-collectors, resin-harvesters and others – into the forest to ensure that they will be careful. The dry season is so dry that a wild fire can be started by a cigarette butt thrown or from fires used to collect bees. We must be careful. We need to instruct people on site in the forest,” he said.
According to forestry and fishery laws, the public, armed forces and authorities at all levels are obliged to maintain and protect forests and prevent fires. All residents are responsible for protecting the habitats of animals and fish and preserving natural environments in their respective localities.
Under the law, anyone who intentionally causes a fire in a forest or mangrove is punishable by a prison term of three to five years or five to 10 years, respectively.