About 160,000 hectares of the flooded forest habitat surrounding the Tonle Sap lake have been destroyed by commercial rice farming operations in the past five years, Tonle Sap Authority officials said Tuesday.
According to TSA Secretary General Chan Youttha, a comparison of aerial photographs taken in 2005 with photos taken this year illustrated the large scale encroachment of rice farms on flooded forest habitat in the six provinces surrounding Tonle Sap lake. Businessmen and wealthy farmers have built hundreds of reservoirs around the lake, using dams to convert flooded forest and wetland into large-scale rice farms.
“The forest has been burnt down and the roots of trees have been pulled out,” said Mr Youttha, adding that TSA crews have demolished 24 man-made reservoirs in Battambang province, one in Banteay Meanchey province, one in Pursat province and four in Siem Reap province.
Mr Youttha said bulldozers had recently been sent to Kompong Thom province to destroy three reservoirs in Kompong Svay district and 15 reservoirs in Stong district. In Kompong Chhnang province, TSA workers left 40 small reservoirs built by subsistence farmers intact.
On July 2 of this year, ordered the governors of the six lake-adjacent provinces to demolish reservoirs, prompting local officials to destroy commercial dams built for commercial purposes while leaving many built by subsistence farmers.
The premier’s order demanded that reservoirs in the Tonle Sap’s floodplain, where farming is banned, be destroyed and that the number of reservoirs in the area adjacent to the floodplain be decreased by 60 percent.
“Only a handful of rich and bad powerful officials were behind the clearing of the flooded forest,” said Minh Bunly, Tonle Sap Coordinator for the Fisheries Action Coalition Team. “If no measure is taken to stop reservoirs being built, the flooded forests will disappear.”
Mr Bunly said FACT will hold workshops for fishermen and local stakeholders in Battambang province on Friday and in Kompong Thom on July 23 to determined to how much flooded forest has been destroyed for farming.