While one government ministry gave approval to a Chinese company to collect yellow vine in Koh Kong province, another ministry told the provincial governor on Thursday to halt the construction of processing facilities for the vine, according to letters obtained on Thursday.
The Ministry of Agriculture granted the Chhay Ching Heang Group permission to “collect the forest product yellow vine for traditional medicine purposes” inside Thma Baing district for one year, beginning next month, according to a letter dated October 26 from the ministry’s secretary-general, Lor Raksmey.
“I did not sign it on behalf of myself. It’s on behalf of the ministry,” Mr. Raksmey said on Thursday, adding that the operation in Russei Chrum commune had not begun processing yellow vine powder.
Yellow vine is used in cosmetics and traditional medicine, and has been rumored to be used in the manufacture of ecstasy, although such claims appear dubious.
On Thursday, Environment Minister Say Sam Al requested that the Koh Kong provincial governor urgently halt the construction of yellow vine factories in Russei Chrum.
“The Ministry of Environment wishes to clarify that the processing of yellow vine is an activity that is against the law” on forests and protected areas, the letter says. “The collecting and processing of yellow vine will cause serious impacts to the environment, society, biodiversity resources and ecology systems in the area.”
While a 2001 Agriculture Ministry proclamation (or prakas) banned the “exploitation, purchasing, processing and transportation of yellow vine” outright, the 2002 Forestry Law permits yellow vine processing, as long as it does not “cause significant pollution or destruction to the forest ecosystem.”
Anyone who violates the law is subject to five to 10 years in prison.
While Chhay Ching Heang Group received permission to collect yellow vine in Russei Chrum, another company, Jiyian Huanglian Trading, has begun developing a processing site in the same commune, according to a letter from environmental groups Wildlife Alliance and Conservation International.
Provincial governor Bun Leut said Chhay Ching Heang was the only company permitted to operate in Thma Baing “to produce traditional medicine,” and that any other facilities may be illegal.
“We did not allow them. If they do this, it’s illegal because they do not have permission. We have to stop them,” Mr. Leut said, declining to elaborate.
Sie Ra, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Forestry Administration, said the one-year license granted to Chhay Ching Heang was a test, and that the government would shut it down if it harmed the environment.
“Before we provided the license, we conducted a detailed study and we contacted the National Authority for Combating Drugs and Ministry of Health about the issue of yellow vine,” Mr. Ra said. “The anti-drug department said it is not part of any drug.”
Neither Chhay Ching Heang nor Jiyian Huanglian could be reached for comment.
Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said that following an investigation into Jiyian Huanglian’s facilities, the ministry had provisionally halted the building of its yellow vine factories.
“The Ministry of Environment already worked out a temporary solution that the provincial authorities will take measures to cease the activities,” Mr. Sopheap said. “The Ministry of Environment didn’t issue any permission to process yellow vine.”