A new World Bank report says that the government’s recent cancellation of logging contracts covering more than 2 million hectares of land represents a “major accomplishment.”
But the report, written in preparation for a critical aid-donors meeting in Tokyo later this month, stresses the need for additional reforms to protect the country’s ravaged forests.
The Cambodian government officially canceled 11 logging contracts in January, bringing the total amount of land under concession down to 4.7 million hectares, according to Forestry Director Ty Sokhun.
Those numbers are close to World Bank recommendations that only about 4 million hectares of land should be under concession for Cambodia to sustain its forests over the long term.
“Cancellation of 10  concessions, totaling over 2 million hectares, is a major accomplishment and encourages renewed hope for the forestry sector,” the World Bank stated in its report, dated early February.
A director of the environmental group Global Witness also recently called the move impressive, but the London-based watchdog also has continued to stress that the military needs to be taken out of the logging equation. A few donors also made that point at a recent pre-Consultative Group meeting in Phnom Penh.
Ty Sokhun acknowledged last week that there had been some illegal logging in the concession areas prior to the cancellation of the contracts. He said other contracts are being reviewed.
Global Witness said at least one concession area had been essentially logged out, so canceling that contract meant little.
While praising the government for canceling the concession contracts, the World Bank report said that the management of Cambodia’s forests is entering a critical period.
“Results of the 1997-98 logging season, which included an estimated 3 to 4 million cubic meters of illegal logging and a continuation of the pattern of grossly inadequate fiscal returns, demonstrate the continuing need for fundamental reforms,” said the report.
The World Bank has predicted that Cambodia’s commercial forests will be logged out within five years if current harvesting rates are allowed to continue. Only about 500,000 cubic meters of timber should be logged in a given year, the World Bank has said in previous reports.
Besides a smaller area of the forest under concession, the report urges other concession areas to be limited to areas of high commercial value and to be strictly managed to maximize revenues for the government.
The report also urges a system of national parks and protected areas, a stronger community forest program to help the income of rural people and a more efficient wood-processing industry.
Those goals will require, in part, beefing up the Forestry Department and Ministry of Environment to control illegal logging.
The International Monetary Fund cut off $60 million of loans beginning in late 1996 largely because of corruption in the forestry industry.