In Cambodia, an official’s cashew factory churns out timber from a protected forest

A senior Cambodian official notorious for illegal logging appears to be carving out a vast swath of forest in what’s supposed to be a protected area in the country’s north.

Vegetation lurches over a concrete wall that runs alongside a quiet road in the northern Cambodian province of Preah Vihear. Behind the wall, and the rusty gate that serves as the only entrance point, sits one of Cambodia’s three medium-sized cashew nut processing factories. At 2 p.m. on a Thursday in late November last year, the road is silent under the sun. Across the road, baking in the heat, sits a barren stretch of land where a forest once stood.

In 2017, when the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a program giving taxpayer-funded grants to help boost Cambodia’s agricultural productivity, it turned to outfits like this. Cambodia is a major producer of cashews, with some estimates suggesting as much as 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) reportedly under cultivation. But roughly 95% of its cashew exports are shipped raw to Vietnam, amounting to 711,513 metric tons in 2022, according to UN data, meaning that most of the profits from the nuts were generated elsewhere.

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