The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced that it has recognised seven new community forests in 2021, bringing the total number of community forests across Cambodia to 536, which cover more than 400,000ha.

According to the ministry’s annual report for 2021, the seven community forest areas cover more than 3,673ha.

The report said the establishment of these community forest areas was for the management, use, protection, preservation and development in a sustainable manner and to use traditional forest products for livelihoods and religious beliefs and to support the government’s policy on poverty reduction.

Long Rattanak Komar, deputy director of the Department of Forestry and Community Forestry under the Forestry Administration, told The Post on January 19 that the total number of community forests recognised by the ministry at the end of 2021 was 536, covering a total area of 449,475ha across the country.

He said projects to establish new forest communities were possible but it would depend on the specific situation because over the past two years the Covid-19 pandemic also disrupted the development process.

“For 2022 we will reorganise this work so that we can issue a declaration recognising other new communities,” he said.

Rattanak Komar continued that so far no already-recognised forest communities have been de-listed. But only some forest areas were automatically transferred under the Ministry of Environment when the government issued a sub-decree turning those areas into protected forest areas or national parks.

Community forest management has also been facing difficulties due to illegal land grabbing.

Keo Omalis, the government delegate in charge of the Forestry Administration, noticed that forest encroachment offences occurred regardless of the dry or wet season, though most of the illegal timber logging occurred in the dry season.

“It is often difficult when there are intruders. But we only know how to enforce the law. We work hard ... now we’re angry. They are not going anywhere ... Our police cannot reach there, these crimes are easy to hide inside forests,” he said.

According to the annual report, there were a total of 777 cases of forest, wildlife and deforestation crimes investigated by the local forestry administrations and the Forestry Administration’s mobile wildlife crime intervention team.

They also seized 1,192 cubic metres of sawn wood, 32 cubic metres of round wood, 860kg of Kranhoung (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) and 3,565 ha of cleared forest land.