The Agriculture Ministry on Wednesday announced that since the 2013 national election it has canceled eight economic land concessions (ELCs) covering some 50,000 hectares belonging to companies that failed to honor their contracts with the government, and cut nearly 100,000 hectares out of four others.
The announcement followed the release of new satellite data last week from the University of Maryland indicating that ELCs continued to be the main driver of rampant deforestation across Cambodia during the election year.
Eang Sophalleth, an undersecretary of state at the Agriculture Ministry and the minister’s cabinet chief, released the new figures on canceled and reduced ELCs at a press conference Wednesday morning. The concessions were all located in the provinces of Kratie, Siem Reap and Stung Treng.
Mr. Sophalleth said the ministry was successively reviewing ELCs in the other provinces as part of a nationwide review ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2012 to root out firms that were failing to develop the land they were granted or otherwise breaching their contracts.
“The Ministry of Agriculture is continuing to check all companies across the country,” he said. “We have to confiscate the land from the companies because they do not respect their contracts and we cannot allow them to act contrary to the law.”
The confiscated land comes on top of the 127,000 hectares the Environment Ministry announced earlier this month that it had confiscated in 2014 by canceling or shrinking ELCs in its own jurisdiction, which covers protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries and national forests.
Though the government outlawed logging concessions years ago, environmental activists say the government has been allowing private firms to continue using ELCs as de facto logging operations without turning them into the plantations they were nominally granted for. They also accuse ELC owners of illegally pushing thousands of families off their land.
The recent release of a global map of forest cover change by the University of Maryland indicated that Cambodia lost more than 200,000 hectares of tree cover in 2013, the most in any year since 2001 except for 2010. According to rights group Licadho’s analysis of the data, more than half the forest cover lost in 2013 occurred inside ELCs, where the clearing of healthy forest in prohibited.
At the same time that Mr. Hun Sen ordered the nationwide review of ELCs in mid-2012, he also placed an indefinite freeze on the granting of new concessions.