The Council of Ministers has issued a directive ordering the protection and preservation of Cambodia’s several million sugar palm trees, which are one of the country’s seven national symbols.
The Friday order bans people from cutting down the trees to sell them across the border, or to process the trees at an industrial scale. But it encourages the public to carve handicrafts from palm wood and produce wine and sugar from the trees to meet market demand.
“The government also encourages people to plant more palm trees on empty land, especially at the border area where there are no trees, to show the Khmer identity and to show the national heritage,” the directive reads.
Educational slots have been shown on state-run TVK in recent days promoting palm-tree preservation. The trees were designated a national symbol March 2005, along with a national flower, fish, cow and fruit.
Pok Leak Reasey, executive director of the NGO Khmer Nature Enterprise—which produces beer, vinegar and sugar from palm trees—welcomed the directive. As he explained, poor farmers are losing out by chopping down their trees and selling them to Vietnamese businessmen for only $5.
Farmers could make much more money by keeping the trees and using them, he said.
A Ministry of Agriculture survey found in 2004 that Cambodia was home to 3.5 million palm trees. However Pok Leak Reasey estimated that some 30 percent of the trees were cut down and sold across Cambodia’s borders between 2000 and 2006.
Hay Ly Aun, general manager of Confirel Co Ltd, which exports palm wine to the European Union and South Korea, said the directive could help tap the true potential of Cambodia’s palms.
“I believe that palm trees will generate a large amount of money for poor farmers,” he said. “People don’t know yet how important palm trees are.”
Mao Thora, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, agreed. “We can make the sugar palm as famous as Bordeaux wine,” he said.