Drought-Hit Farmers Axing National Tree

As rice farmers in drought-ravaged areas resort to felling and selling their palm trees, the Min­istry of Agriculture is considering drafting a subdecree aimed at protecting the trees, which were recently designated a na­tional symbol, officials said this week.

On March 21, a royal decree de­signated the palm tree as Cam­bodia’s national tree; the same decree also named a national flower, fish, cow and fruit, among other categories, said Lim Sokun, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture.”

[Repeated] droughts in the last two years made some Khmer farmers [too poor] to produce enough rice, so they sell off their [palm] trees for income,” said Pok Leakreasey, director of the Association of Palm Tree Con­servation for Cambodian Devel­op­ment. Pok Leakreasey said the trees tend to grow in drought-prone areas.

Lim Sokun said the Ministry of Agriculture has ordered legal ex­perts to draft a measure aimed at bringing the cutting of palm trees under control.

He said a regulation is necessary to define which kind of trees can be cut and which cannot.

However, complicating the enforcement of such a measure to protect the tree is the fact that most of the estimated 3.5 million palm trees in Cambodia grow on private property, Lim Sokun said.

Pok Leakreasey called the ministry’s plan for a subdecree a “fair solution” to protecting and preserving palm trees but said the government should focus more on providing financial incentives for farmers to do so.

“The most important [thing] is that the government must encourage the production of products from palm tree[s] and find a market for farmers,” he said.

Pok Leakreasy said a local company that produces palm products including wine, beer and vinegar has identified a potential market for exporting the products to Eu­rope and throughout Asia.

The lack of rain this year, however, is making things hard for palm growers.

Kompong Speu province has seen a sharp decline in sugar palm production due to the repeated droughts and a lack of firewood, said Deputy Governor Kang Heang.

Kompong Speu, where an estimated one million palm trees grow, currently has about 10,000 sugar palm farmers, down from a high of close to 20,000, Kang Heang said. He said farmers planted about 200,000 new trees each year for three years starting in 2002 in a program encouraged by local officials.


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