Rubber, rattan and honey are all valuable resources for the Bangkorng Khmum community village. The villagers of the Beehive community, in Pursat province’s Krokar district, go to the forest each day to collect these things to earn a living.
But in a recent interview, Tan Sarim, the head of the community, said the villagers now fear losing these sources of income and worry they don’t have the legal right to manage the forest on which they rely.
Likewise, Kong Vuthy, head of Borei O’svay forest community in Stung Treng province, said since its inception, in 2002, his forest community has not been given legal title to manage itself.
“If our forest cannot be legally managed by the community, there will be exploitation and anarchic logging,” he said on the sidelines of a forest community network meeting in Pursat in July. “If we manage it, we will use it in a sustainable way and protect it for our next generation.”
Forest communities were first set up in Cambodia in the 1990s to preserve forests after they were heavily, illegally logged at an alarming level the decade before.
Now 377 forest communities exist across the country, covering nearly 350,000 hectares of land, according to June statistics at the Ministry of Agriculture’s forestry administration.
Based on the 2002 Forestry Law, a forest community can use and manage its forest to benefit the community for 15 years, following an agreement with the forestry administration.
However, there are currently only 59 forest communities among the 377 have been legally allowed to manage themselves, said Lao Setha Phal, acting director of forestry administration office.
“The slow process of legalization is due to problems of an overlap between forest community areas and economic land concessions,” he explained, adding that the forestry administration will have signed an agreement with all 124 forest communities with official agreements with the Ministry of Agriculture by the end of this year, or early next year at the latest.
“For the rest of forest communities, we will work that out as fast as we can,” he said.
Nevertheless, the process of forest community legalization is slow and a bit complicated, said Francis Perez, Cambodia director for Oxfam Britain, adding that hundreds of forest community applications are still pending in offices of both provincial governments and the forestry administration.