In its Human Development Report Cambodia 2019, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said the Kingdom’s forests stretched over 73 per cent of the country in 1975, but it had shrunk to 46.84 per cent in 2018.
The report which was published last week said deforestation was mainly caused by rising wood demand for construction as well as for use as firewood and charcoal.
The report said unsustainable developments – economic land concessions, hydropower and mining projects, and illegal logging – have led to a spiral of degradation for the ecosystem and the people.
It said Cambodia’s forests covered 8.7 million hectares in 2016, including the five major types – evergreen, semi-evergreen, deciduous and dry dipterocarp forests, and flooded forests.
“Mitigating this pressure and moving towards sustainable forest management starts with restoring degraded forests and bolstering productive capacity in the 15 per cent of forests currently reserved for timber harvesting.
“These forests cover 1.3 million hectares of 8.7 million hectares of forests overall,” the report said.
The reports offered four recommendations to ensure sustainable forestry management.
The first is the necessity to have accurate and adequate data on forests to formulate an effective management strategy and make timely interventions addressing local conditions.
The report said: “Cambodia needs to conduct a national forest inventory. This should include field surveys, remote sensing and GIS technology.
“A forest resource management information system should be established to supplement the existing National Forest Monitoring System.
“The inventory would provide data on the condition of forest resources, including production forest area, species composition, annual allowable cuts, and areas under natural and artificial rehabilitation.
“It would also show concessionaires and the forest industry, and market intelligence which included domestic supply and demand trend and price.”
The second recommendation is to implement new strategies for managing planted forests and aim to minimise timber losses at all production levels and maximise benefits to local production.
“High-quality species such as teak and other local species should be promoted as a priority while low-value acacia and eucalyptus can be used as wood fuel supply,” it said.
The report said third is to strategise natural forest management so that the awareness is rooted in communities, providing full legal authority and responsibility for sustainable use.
And finally, the report recommended promoting comprehensive sustainable forestry management at all levels as it could deliver multiple gains.
This involves training and engagement of the local community, effective law enforcement and building a formal timber legality assurance system.
Goldman Environmental Prize winner Ouch Leng said he found that the report only briefly touched on the issues and it did not raise the real reasons for forest degradation.
“The cause of deforestation is the issuance of economic land concessions to timber companies. We know the cause, but we cannot talk about it,” he said.
He said most of the illegal timber was transported at night while legal timber was always shipped during the day.
“If you cannot tell the truth about the cause of deforestation, you cannot protect the forest. There is no need to plant trees because they will grow if we do not log them,” he said.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said on Monday that his ministry had a clear strategic plan to manage and preserve natural resources and biodiversity.
He said the plan was formed as forests play an important role in water catchment as well as reducing the impact of natural disasters and climate change.
Currently, he said, the government had extended the natural protected area of 7.2 million hectares to be under the ministry, which covers 41 per cent of the Kingdom’s land surface.
“To support the reform of the environmental and natural resource sector, the Ministry of Environment has strengthened its human resources to manage protected natural areas and preserve the important ecological system,” he said.
The ministry was planning a clear use of land which was categorised as the core area, protected area, sustainable use area, and community area, he said.
“Our people have to know which areas are protected, which ones are preserved for economic development or for improving [their] livelihoods.
“In the next five years, we intend to complete the division for all nature reserves starting from seven protected areas in the Cardamom Mountains, with support from the World Bank,” he said.
He said the registration of natural protected areas was also the priority of his ministry to ensure legal clarity.