Cambodian forests of higher altitudes share characteristics with those forests of the Indo-Malayan region, while the forests in the plains are typical of Indochinese landscapes (RGC: The Fifth National Report To The Convention On Biological Diversity). These forests provide living space for both humans and animals. Around 80% of Cambodians live in rural areas, with forests playing a vital role as a source of food, medicine, construction products, other materials, and small business ventures. Forests also have heritage, cultural, and spiritual importance for many people, especially indigenous communities in Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri and other remote provinces (Open Development Cambodia).
Types of forest cover by area (2010)
Loss of forests
Despite its importance for both Cambodians and the global society, the forests of Cambodia are under threat. Total forest cover has decreased from around 72% in 1973 to 48% in 2014, the year 2014 marking the first time in 41 years where the percentage of non-forest cover exceeds that of forest cover. (Open Development Cambodia)
Source: Open Development Cambodia
Illegal logging and export of illegally logged luxury grade timber receive frequent reports in the media, among NGOs and in the international context. In a new effort to stop illegal practices, Cambodia’s prime minister has established a task force against illegal logging, and ordered a crackdown on individuals and companies involved in the crime (e.g. Cambodia Daily, 20.01.2016: New Gov’t Task Force Continues Illegal-Logging Raids). Despite these efforts, independent investigations have frequently found official collusion, where prominent businessmen, government and provincial officials, as well as members of the armed forces and the police are reported to be involved in large-scale illegal schemes. Logging is carried out in protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries, threatening Cambodia’s last remaining wild forests (Open Development Cambodia: Forests and Forestry).
The 80% of Cambodians living in rural areas often use forests as a source of food, resin, animal fodder, beeswax and construction material, collected on a small scale for individual, family and community use.
On a much more extensive and damaging level, large-scale plantations extract e.g. rubber and palm oil. These products were the biggest export products by value in 2011. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries accounted more than 325,900 ha of rubber plantations in 2013, and expects them to increase to 400,000 ha by 2020. (Open Development Cambodia)
In order to address issues connected to the loss of forest coverage, the government developed a National Forest Program (NFP) 2010-2029.
To advance the sustainable management and development of our forests for their contribution to poverty alleviation, enhanced livelihoods, economic growth and environmental protection, including conservation of biological diversity and our cultural heritage.
The NFP consists of 6 major programs to be implemented and monitored:
- Forest demarcation, classification and registration
- Conservation and development of forest resources and biodiversity
- Forest law enforcement and governance
- Community forestry
- Capacity and research development
- Sustainable forest financing