While the Cambodian government has made progress cracking down on illegal logging, more needs to be done to involve local communities in forestry decisions, reform the logging concession system and protect the country’s wildlife, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization will tell donors in Paris this week.
“The right steps are now being taken, but the road ahead is still long and perilous,” said Jean-Claude Levasseur, the FAO representative in Cambodia. FAO chairs a donor subgroup monitoring forestry reform.
The government’s inability to manage its forests has had a strong effect on donors’ willingness to support the country. In 1996, the International Monetary Fund pulled out of Cambodia largely because the government could not control illegal logging. The IMF, encouraged by reforms, returned to Cambodia last October with an $80 million loan package.
Progress has been made since the last Consultative Group meeting in February 1999, the FAO report states.
The government is working to stop illegal logging, a program to monitor forest crimes has been established and forestry management legislation is being passed—albeit slowly.
“The biggest change in the last year has been the reduction in the level of illegal logging,” British Ambassador George Edgar said.
The challenge for the coming year, he said, centers on the concession system and the need to ensure as little damage as possible to Cambodia’s forests while new cutting plans—based on scientific evidence—are produced.
Concessions, through which timber companies harvest vast swaths of forest and pay the government a royalty, has become one of the most sensitive issues in Cambodian forestry reform.
A review funded by the Asian Development Bank, released in April, said the concession system needs to be overhauled, citing a lack of long-term planning by concessionaires and a lack of enforcement by the government.
“A majority of concessions are not able to manage and exploit the forest guaranteeing sustainable access and practices,” Levasseur wrote in his report. “The findings suggest serious problems exist within the forest concession management system and call into question the role of concessionaires as the stewards of the nation’s commercial forests.”
Levasseur said donors want to express themselves individually on the issue of logging concession moratoriums because decisions could have consequences on the national budget and security in remote areas, as well as legal implications.
The report recommends donors continue to fund a new forest crime monitoring project. If funding were boosted by $700,000 per year, the report said, the program could be expanded to include the suppression and prevention of forest crimes. Currently the project only gathers data.
The report calls for donor support to improve environmental education and asks the government to do more to protect areas rich in plant and animal life, particularly the Cardamom mountains in southwestern Cambodia.
“These mountains are one of the most important areas for biodiversity conservation in Asia,” Levasseur wrote. “We urge the Royal Government to take immediate steps to delineate an area for long-term protection and to remove it from the concession system.”
Levasseur said the government needs to focus on ratifying the land law, the national forest policy and the forest law and pass a subdecree supporting a stronger community forestry program.
“We…encourage a greater emphasis be placed on the participation of local people and communities in protection and sustainable management of local forest resources to meet local needs,” Levasseur said.