Siem Pak says he is glad he will get a chance to see a logging company’s plans for sustainable logging of his forest in Stung Treng province. But he has little hope that the company will stop logging the forest his fellow villagers depend on for their daily needs.
“They should draw up the plans so it is clear which forest belongs to the company and which to the community,” the Seim Bok district villager said Thursday.
The 25-year logging plans, known as Sustainable Forestry Management Plans, are supposed to allow for areas to be set aside for communal use as dictated by forest concession law, forestry experts say.
But no one from the company, or the government, has asked Siem Pak which parts of the forest are most valuable to villagers, he said. So Siem Pak worries that the company, Everbright, will continue cutting in areas the villagers go to for food and trading goods when farming gets difficult.
“Traditional people go to the forest to get their living, but since the company came we are losing our livelihoods,” he said.
Villagers from several provinces, who gathered in Phnom Penh this week to discuss their rights, said no one from the companies or the government asked them where they go in the forest to collect fruit, vegetables, medicinal herbs, rattan, resin or other products.
Noun Mung of Preah Vihear province said she asked the province’s agriculture department to set aside community forest areas, but never received a response. She claims Chendar Plywood is overcutting in her area and never consults villagers, who are losing communal forest.
“They don’t show us plans, they just come and cut,” she said.
Though the forestry concession law allows for community forest areas, the community forestry subdecree has not passed—leaving the areas in legal limbo.
Eva Galabru of the forestry watchdog Global Witness, who has seen early drafts of some of the plans, said many companies are arbitrarily mapping out community forest areas—even including areas that are not forested—or stating that there are no communal forests in its concession.
On Monday, the logging plans are slated to become available to the public at the World Bank offices in Phnom Penh, signaling the beginning of a 19-day review period. Forestry officials will use the plans to determine whether companies may resume cutting, ending a logging suspension that began in January.
But activists say that 19 days are not nearly enough time to review the plans, many of them thick documents filled with jargon.
The government said the plans will be provided to provincial agricultural departments, but has not given definite dates when the plans will be available, they say.
Many villagers living in forest concessions are a few days’ journey from provincial capitals. Villagers need time to identify their community forests and measure the impact of developments such as roads, activists say.
“Many of the more remote villages located in or near concessions are unlikely to even see management plans within the allotted period for consultations,” said Russell Peterson of the NGO Forum, which helps educate villagers about their rights under forestry law.
An NGO official who works with villagers in heavily forested Ratanakkiri province said many highland minorities living in forest concessions there do not speak Khmer and would require translations, he said.
They are currently busy picking rice in highland paddies that are days away from their villages, he said.
“You could take the plans to the village and find nobody there,” he said, adding, “two weeks is completely insufficient.”
On Thursday, some provincial leaders agreed with the activists. They said they had not heard when the plans would become available.
“If it is two weeks, that will be a very short period,” said Preap Tann, governor of Preah Vihear. “We may not know the negative and positive impacts [on people’s livelihoods].”
“We would need at least one month to look at [the plans],” said Vorn Chhunly, first deputy governor of Kratie.
On Thursday activists blasted the World Bank for indicating it will release a $15 million loan it has held up since June as the government blocked both donors and villagers from seeing the plans.
Peterson referred to a comment by a World Bank official that two weeks was “grossly inadequate” as a public review period. The comment was in an e-mail to fellow donors and forestry advisers.
He also referred to a statement to donors from international advisers to the Department of Forestry and Wildlife suggesting that “given the vast expanse of the concessions and the numerous communities involved,” a six-month review was more appropriate.
World Bank economist William Magrath said there should be at least one more opportunity for public comment before cutting begins. Companies are expected to produce one or two more short-term plans, and Cambodian forestry law calls for public review and consultation at each step.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun and Yun Samean)