A controversial plantation inside a national park is set to go forward after the NGO WildAid gave its begrudging consent Friday in a meeting with Ministry of Environment officials.
WildAid had threatened to yank its funding for Koh Kong province’s Botum Sakor National Park if the government allowed the $1 billion plantation to operate, but backed off its ultimatum because the project is licensed and allowed in the NGO’s contract with the Environment Ministry.
“There is not much more we can do,” Delphine Vann Roe, WildAid’s deputy director, said Sunday.
Green Rich Group Co Ltd plans to grow trees for export and paper production on its 18,000-hectare land concession in the park, outraging conservationists who say it blatantly violates several laws and sets a dangerous precedent for the country’s national park system.
They also decry the company’s licensing to cultivate the non-native eucalyptus tree, which has wreaked environmental havoc in other Southeast Asian countries.
WildAid, which funds equipment, rangers and maintenance at the park, called the project illegal last week , but is party to a memorandum of understanding with the Environment Ministry that permits Green Rich’s operations.
WildAid approved the 2003 agreement, allowing the Green Rich concession as a compromise for drastically reducing its size from its prior size of more than 60,000 hectares, Vann Roe said.
“We are clear with WildAid about this,” said Chay Samith, who heads the ministry’s nature conservation department. Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Council of Ministers have already approved the project.
A representative from the Taiwanese company defended its plans last week, calling the “agro-industrial complex” a potential boon that will mutually help the environment and economy.
“This is 100 percent good for the Cambodian government,” Paul Yu, an adviser to the company’s chairman, said Thursday.
Yu said Green Rich had opted to cultivate the less harmful acacia tree because of poor soil quality in the area, and would station police around the concession to prevent any logging outside its boundaries. Green Rich will invest some $30 million in the first phase of development, Yu said.
Despite its stated good intentions, the project is still in violation of the law, which prohibits concessions larger than 10,000 hectares and requires the company to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment—a condition Green Rich has not fulfilled. Discovery of Green Rich’s plans in March came as the government considers licensing a second concession inside the same park allowing TKS International Co Ltd to operate an 8,000-hectare sand mine.
Vann Roe said WildAid will meet Environment Minister Mok Mareth next week to demand TKS be denied a license.