A display booth with luxury hardwood statues was tucked amid stands of fresh agricultural produce outside this year’s Ministry of Agriculture annual conference, even though logging of such species of wood has been outlawed for decades in Cambodia.
In front of brochures and business cards for Yi Hong Wooden Furniture, a large wooden sculpture of a deer and a monkey stood near shelves holding smaller animal statues. The statues were labeled with the species of wood from which they were made, including Beng and Thnong, two luxury species first protected as rare several decades ago.
The owner of Yi Hong Wooden Furniture, Chea Choeng, said Monday that his precious wood comes from Battambang and Pailin, but not from living trees. He said the furniture is made from stumps and dead wood gathered by locals.
Also attending the two-day conference, Ieng Saveth, head of the forest crime monitoring unit at the Forestry Administration, said Monday he did not know where wood for such statues might come from. “I am not in charge of this,” he said, standing in front of Yi Hong Wooden Furniture booth. “I know nothing.”
The wood was displayed in front of a poster describing tree planting projects and near a stand holding small packages of Cambodian-grown mushrooms, and a health drink made from one of Cambodia’s native fruits.
In a closing speech at the conference Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen railed against illegal logging in Cambodia: “In the forestry sector, the cutting down of trees and uses of the forest must be properly controlled.”
Mike Davis of forestry watchdog Global Witness said Tuesday that claims the timber was not cut are common among businesses using luxury hardwood. But he said that Global Witness investigations have confirmed that the vast majority of precious wood comes from illegal logging.
“I’m sure there are bits of luxury wood lying around,” Davis said.
“But as to whether that’s a likely source to base a business on, it is highly improbable,” he said.