Deforestation under the spotlight in Cambodia

Deforestation under the spotlight in Cambodia

A legal battle between a logging tycoon and a local activist group is once again highlighting the issue of Cambodia's depleting forests and questions over who benefits - locals, or large companies associated with the well connected.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy jumped on the issue last week, visiting Prey Lang forest in Kampong Thom province and saying that he was "speechless" upon seeing the destruction on a 60 sq km plot of land. The land concession was granted to a Vietnamese company to grow rubber.

Separate studies released in recent weeks show that Cambodia is seeing an alarming loss of forests - driven mostly by logging and conversion to plantations.

The rubber industry is a key driver of the conversion. A Global Witness report in May concluded that by the end of last year, 2.6 million ha of land in Cambodia had been leased to private companies, of which 1.2 million ha was for growing rubber. A series of maps using Nasa images, released this month by the local non-government organisation Open Development Cambodia (ODC), shows that Cambodia's forest cover has fallen from around 72 per cent in 1973 to about 46 per cent this year.

The figure includes tree plantations. In reality, "dense forest" cover has fallen to less than 11 per cent this year, ODC claims.

The study was released just weeks after researchers at the University of Maryland said their own study showed that Cambodia has the fifth-fastest deforestation rate in the world. Only Malaysia, Paraguay, Indonesia and Guatemala had higher rates of deforestation over the same period. Cambodia has lost 7 per cent of its forest cover over the past 12 years, the researchers said.

The concession in Cambodia's Prey Lang forest, which Mr Rainsy visited, is only the tip of an iceberg of deforestation, Cambodian activists say.

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