Provincial authorities are taking measures to protect palm trees from woodcutters in order to save the towering cultural symbols that dot Cambodia’s countryside.
“It has become a serious issue in the province, as there have been [people] who buy the trees to sell in Vietnam,” said Kompong Thom province Governor Nou Phoeung. “The order was released to district and commune levels to protect the trees from destruction.”
The trees are sold for 5,000 riel (about $1.25) each, said Kompong Thom Deputy Governor Som Sophat, who said serious cutting has taken place in Baray and Kompong Svay districts.
“If we do not prevent it, the trees will be gone,” he said.
Som Sophat said the widening of Route 6 created an opportunity for some people to cut down more trees.
Cambodia has about 6.5 million palm trees, according to Minister of Information Lu Laysreng. They are highly valued by many people living in the provinces, where full-grown trees provide leaves for roofing, fruit for palm cakes and cooking, and palm juice.
A full-grown tree produces about 320 liters of palm juice in a season, worth about $100, he said.
“Cutting a palm tree is like cutting one’s own house pillar,” said Lu Laysreng. “It is a bad sign that shows our Cambodians have become very poor.”
Two years ago, Lu Laysreng told Malaysian businessmen in Kuala Lumpur they could profit handsomely from palm tree groves if they could find a market for palm juice and palm sugar.
The palm trees also deserve protection because they are symbols of Khmer culture, said Chhoeun Mony, executive director of the Kampuchea Krom League for Development.
“In our logo we used two palm trees to represent Khmer Kampuchea Krom and Khmer Kandal, and we will add one more tree to represent Khmer Leu,” the ethnic hill tribes, he said.