Forest Conflict in Cambodia

Seminar Paper 2009 18 Pages

Forestry / Forestry Economics



List of abbreviation

1. Introduction
1.1. What is forest conflict?
1.2. Causes of forest conflict in Cambodia

2. Case: Forest conflict between local communities and forest industries in Cambodia

3. Discussion

4. Conclusion


List of abbreviations

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1. Introduction

Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia covers an area of 181 035 square kilometers, with a population of over 14 million (July 2008) of which about 85-90 percent lives in the rural areas (Ministry of Rural Development 2006, Central Intelligence Agency 2008). Cambodia is bordered on the north-east by Laos, on the east and south-east by Vietnam, on the south-west by the Gulf of Thailand, and on the west and north-west by Thailand (FAO 2007). In 1965 forests covered an estimated 73 % of the country’s territory but started to decline to an estimated 61% of the total land area in 2002 (TWG Forestry and Environment 2007). According to Technical Working Group (TWG) Forestry and Environment report in 2007, the loss of forest cover is consistent with land use and land cover change patterns associated with demographic growth and economic development in most countries. Forest cover of Cambodia declined during the period 2002-2006 from 61% to 59% of the total land area (TWG Forestry and Environment 2007).

In rural areas, a large majority of Cambodians earn their income through farming and using natural resources, especially forest products (USAID 2006b). Forests were only used for provision of fuelwood and building timber for local communities (FAO 2002). Since forest resources benefit different stakeholders in the country, conflict of interest also arise at the same time. Natural resource conflict is a major issue for the Cambodian government since it is closely linked to government efforts in alleviating poverty and improving good governance (USAID 2004). Many conflicts have occurred in Cambodia and the conflict between local communities and forest industries in Tum Ring commune, Kampong Thom province is one of the most noticeable in the country. Because there were many stakeholders involved in this conflict from international and state level to local level, it have also gained both national and international attention. This discussion paper highlights some major causes of forest conflict in Cambodia. It then takes a close look at the effects of forestry development projects to local communities and the roles of official independents forest monitor. Finally, it presents the solutions and discusses about the interventions from national and international institutions.

1.1 What is forest conflict?

There are some correlation between forest conflict and social aspects such as population growth, landlessness and lack of income opportunities (USAID 2004). Local communities are also competing for land and natural resources with land grabbers and land concessionaires. However, the definition of forest conflict may be different from country to country. Conflict can occur at various levels from state to communities or local level. According to the report on Forest Conflict in Asia: Undermining Development, Security, and Human Rights by USAID in 2004, forest conflict is the consequence of poor administration, lack of accountability , corruption and weak law enforcement of government and military officials. It was also the result of inequity access of forest resource by all stakeholders. For example, in Cambodia in the early 1990s, both the Khmer Rouges and the government forces financed their military campaigns and political activities through timber sales (USAID 2004). Furthermore, CIFOR defines illegal forestry activities and poor governance in tropical forested regions as the two main causes which can encourage violent conflict and the widespread of the violence makes forestry and conservation policies in forested areas less effective. USAID (2004) reported that weak governance of land and natural resources also accounted for degradation of forest and forest conflicts in Cambodia. According to United States Agency for International Development (2004), there are some factors, called enabling factors of conflict, which cause forest conflict in Cambodia. Firstly, the valuable timber is easily to harvest and sell so it makes logging to become attractive source of cash for some group such as the military, government officials, and businessmen. Furthermore, the neighboring countries are defined as the lucrative timber market due to the road networks and high demand of timber supply of those countries. For instance Thailand imported large amounts of timber from Cambodia when Thailand declared a ban logging inside the country in 1989 (Le Billon 2000). Secondly, the land price is increasingly high thus forests are cleared for land grabbing and the landless people have nothing to lose but much to gain from forestland encroachment. In Rattanakiri province, land grabbers have taken the land from local communities and bought from them at normal fee. As a result, this forces the communities to clear further forestland for sale (USAID 2000). Next, due to the small portion of population, communities who depend heavily of forest resource have less power since most of them are socially marginalized.

1.2 Causes of forest conflict in Cambodia

The conflict in forestry sector is complicated because there are many causes lying under it. USAID (2004) explained that the causes of forest conflict in Cambodia can be divided into two main categories: direct causes and underlying causes. Direct cause included land grabbing, forest land encroaching (for agricultural use), forest concession, economic land concession, illegal timber and non-timber forest products harvesting and forest use restrictions in protected area and protection forest. The under lying causes included weak governance and observance of the rule of law, a growing population of young, landless people, forest access has been improved and Social Land Concession Sub-Decree1 (Cause conflict between landless people and people already living in the land) (USAID 2004 ).

Direct and underlying causes of forest conflict at the community level

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Source: USAID, 2004

Because forest concession and economic land concession are the major causes of forest conflict in Cambodia, the two systems will be discussed in the following section.

Between 1994 and 1997, to increase the revenue for national development from the forestry sector, the Royal Government of Cambodia granted more than 30 commercial forest concessions encompassing an area of about 6.5 million hectares by introducing a forest concession system (McKenney 2002). As a result, the livelihood of local people, who livings in those concession areas, were threatened (Menglang 2003). The extreme negative impact by concessionaires on communities have been raised because logging companies have restricted access of local people in the forest area and cut down the trees (Mainly Depterocarp species) tapped by villagers for resin (CDC 2002). Resin plays a significant role for household income and harvesting of resin trees are prohibited by the forestry law (McKenney et al. 2004). The conflict situation regarding to concessionaires and local communities become more server in the country (Barney 2007). In addition, Barney (2005) also explained that the core issue of forest conflict between local communities and forest concession companies was about land and resource tenure. In 2001, the Royal Government of Cambodia put more pressure on concessionaires by introducing additional legal requirements such as the preparation of long-term strategic forest management plans consistent with international standards, and the renegotiation of model forest concession investment agreements (ITTO 2005). However, many concessionaires were not able to prepare high quality of strategic forest management plans and fulfill the requirement of environmental and social impact assessment which set up by the government (Independent Forest Sector Review 2004). In the same year, the Royal Government of Cambodia decided to suspend the logging operation of all concessionaires and this timber harvesting suspension was a significant event toward sustainable forest management in concession system (World Bank 2006). Furthermore, many forest concession agreements have been cancelled due to violation to the law and regulations on forestry and forest concession agreements (Suntra 2007). Until December 2004, there were only 13 forest concession companies which still own the concession area while 17 concessionaires were completely cancelled by the government (Forestry Administration 2004). The logging operation of the concessionaires can continue until the new forest concession management plans are approved by the government (ITTO 2005). Up to now, none of forest concessions are under logging activities and there is no encouragement from the government to continue the forest concession scheme in Cambodia.


1 For more detail, see United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 2004. An Assessment of Forest Conflict at the Community Level in Cambodia


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Institution / College
University of Joensuu – Faculty of Forest Science
industry investment communities RGC fa ethic forest concession international ngo economic land concession forest conflict forestry administration ngo forum Tum ring Cambodia ENGOs Global Witness Timber Non timber forest products NTFP



Title: Forest Conflict in Cambodia