Between 1994 and 1997, the Cambodian government gave out thirty commercial forestry concessions covering more than half the country’s forests (6.5 million hectares). It later cancelled some concessions but its forest policy continues to focus on those that remain. The World Bank and other donors have worked hard to get the concessionaires to manage their forests sustainably and to pay more taxes. However, according to "Questioning Sustainable Concession Forestry in Cambodia" by Bruce McKenney from the Cambodian Development Resource Institute, they have largely failed.
McKenney says most companies continue to log high value species in their concessions as quickly as possible. They do not follow a twenty-five year harvesting cycle like the law says they should. Within the next eight years something like 90% of the companies will have logged their entire concession area. Even though the international agencies recommend that companies only harvest an average of ten cubic meters of wood per hectare, the companies typically harvest four or five times that amount. It has proven difficult to change such behavior because doing those things allows companies to earn greater profits and reduce their risks. The companies have enough capacity to process between 1.2 and 2.0 million cubic meters of timber and generally try to use as much of that as they can even though the country cannot produce that much timber sustainably.
International agencies have also found it harder than expected to increase the Cambodian government’s tax revenues from forestry. Initially, they predicted such revenues could generate $100 million dollars per year. Yet between 1996 and 2000 total forest tax revenues never exceeded $12 million dollars per year.
Given that the concessions have failed to achieve sustainable forest management or provide significant tax revenue, McKenney suggests that the Cambodians consider other options. He says the government should terminate the concessions of companies that break the rules and use the forest they get back for community forests, watershed management, ecotourism, and biodiversity conservation.
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You can download a free electronic copy of McKenney’s paper at: www.cdri.org.kh/webdata/cdr02-1/cdr6-1a.pdf
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