Developments Threaten K Speu’s Sugar Palm, Official Says.

A district official in Kompong Speu province said yesterday he was concerned that private companies were cutting down prized sugar palm trees in the area, as companies have started buying up large tracts of land for agriculture.

Samrith Len, chief of Samraong Tong district’s environment office, said there had been a recent increase in the felling of palm trees due to the arrival of private companies.

“The problem is there’s cutting of palm trees on private land of the companies who buy the land from villagers,” he said.

In April, palm sugar produced in Kompong Speu became one of the first Cambodian products, along with Kampot pepper, to be officially registered with geographical indications, which certify the products’ origin and authenticity on export markets. Sugar production in Kompong Speu is concentrated in Samraong Tong.

Mr Len said he was heading up a project to preserve the roughly 100,000 palm trees in Samraong Tong that produce palm sugar. He said it was difficult to protect the trees from private development.

“Our palm tree preservation project is hard because they develop the land to grow agricultural crops,” he said. “Nowadays there are 80 percent that we can save but the other 20 percent we can’t save.”

In 2005, the sugar palm was designated a national symbol and the government encouraged farmers to plant sugar palms. This measure halted a trend that had around a third of Cambodia’s estimated 3.5 million sugar palm trees cut down and sold for materials between 2000 and 2006.

Prak Sereyvuth, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Research and Rural Development, which works with sugar producers, said the recent removal of trees could threaten sugar production in Samraong Tong district in the near future.

“Just recently we see this problem [of cutting palm trees] again,” he said. “This external factor is a big concern sometimes. If the big company comes and buys the land we don’t know if they will cut the trees.”

“For the moment we do not foresee the impact on sugar producers,” he said, adding that most sugar palm felling occurred in Samraong Tong and Odong districts.

He said the Ministry of Agriculture could actively protect the palms given the tree’s status as a national symbol.

“[The decree] doesn’t state that cutting palm trees is banned, it’s up to the ministry to issue a prakas…to order their subordinates in the province to protect the trees.”

Officials at the Agriculture Ministry were unavailable yesterday. Him Chhem, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, said he could not comment on the issue as he had not yet received reports on palm tree logging in Kompong Speu.

 

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