Forestry Rights Project

The Forestry Rights project supports NGOs working together to prevent or mitigate negative impacts of development projects such as Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) on forest-dependent communities and promotes alternative livelihood options for them. It works towards establishing security for community land in ELC areas.

The project supports NGO advocacy to ensure that the concerns of communities affected by ELCs are brought to the attention of the government. It encourages NGOs, affected communities, development partners, and government to engage in policy consultation and dialogue promoting reform of the legal framework around forest-dependent communities, land and ELCs, supported by evidence-based and gender-sensitive research.

The Forestry Rights project works primarily through the Indigenous People and Forestry Network (IPFN), which comprises local and international NGOs that support communities living in and near forest concession and plantation areas. The IPFN network was established in 2012 as a result of merging the Forest Livelihoods and Plantations Network (FL&PN) and the Indigenous People’ NGOs Network (IPNN), following recommendations from the final evaluation 2011.

Many Cambodians rely on access to forest resources

Around three-quarters of Cambodia’s rural population are subsistence farmers.  Many of them depend for at least part of their livelihood on access to forest resources for essential products, energy and food, particularly non-timber forest products.

Since 1995, very large blocks of land have been granted to local and foreign companies for agro-industry plantations. According to the latest data from a human rights organization, LICADHO, ELCs covered 2,289,490 ha by April 2013, which is equivalent to 63.46 % percent of Cambodia’s arable land. In addition, 2,027,979 hectares of mining concessions have been recorded. Thus, according to LICADHO, mining and economic land concessions together cover 4,317,469 hectares or 24.46 percent of Cambodia’s surface area. At the same time, according to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, from 1996 until now the government – namely MAFF and MOE – has granted a total area of 1.5 million hectares of ELCs to 117 companies.

The government has done some work towards protecting the interests of local communities. For example, the Cambodian Forest Law (2002) provides a legal basis for rural communities to participate in forest management through community forestry. A Sub-decree on ELCs (2005) sets out processes and safeguards that should be followed where concessions are granted, such as consultation with local communities, prior preparation of Environmental and Social Impact Assessments as well as well as providing  solutions for resettlement issues, ensuring that involuntary resettlement of lawful land owners shall not occur.

However, these laws and policies are only selectively implemented and government officials are often not held accountable.

The rate of forest degradation and allocation of agro-industrial plantations in forests means that options such as community management of forests are being closed off unless there is a greater push to implement laws and policies supportive of local communities.

The Sub-decree on ELCs is not effectively enforced at a local or national level. For example, proper consultation with communities is often not done, or only conducted after the ELC lease is signed.

Concessionaires often come into conflict with communities when they encroach on community land while expanding and clearing land for their ELCs. Many community members do not have a land title to prove their ownership. The community members’ land rights and land holdings are often not properly assessed. ELCs are a root cause of forced evictions.

Poor and marginalized people lose their access to land and natural resources and suffer a subsequent loss of livelihood.

Few effective alternatives are available for communities

Concessionaires sometimes try to buy out community members by providing cash payments for land use or offering access to other land. Cash compensation is usually not an adequate long-term option for protecting villagers’ livelihoods, and in practice it does not ensure that the people are no worse off after the ELC is created.  
CEA and NGO Forum research (ELCs and Local Communities, Ngo and Chan, 2010) found that farmer-investor partnerships can provide possible benefits to both concessionaire and farmer, ensuring sustainable livelihoods for local communities – but the research also found that ELCs were one of the causes of increasing negative social and environmental impacts.

Project background

Since the early 1990s, NGOs and international organizations have lobbied for support from policy-makers for decentralized forest management options.
The Forestry Rights project began in 2002. It first focused on increasing the ability of communities to protect their rights and interests in using and managing forests and land. A network of NGOs carried out village-level legal education, facilitated stakeholder discussions and enabled public consultation on draft legislation. In 2005, the capacity building and networking functions were transferred to Oxfam GB while the project continued to coordinate national-level advocacy.

Between 2006 and 2008, in coordination with members of the FL&P Network, the project expanded its mandate to address the impact of plantations and ELCs on local livelihoods and access to natural resources. The project brought community concerns to the attention of government officials, donors and the public. It highlighted the illegal logging activities of some concessions; supported affected communities; conducted research; and raised public awareness of sustainable natural resource management. The project also successfully requested a World Bank inspection of Bank-funded forest concession projects and provided comments on an independent review of forest concession management plans.

In implementing its 2009–2011 action plan, the project continued with awareness-raising and addressing the impacts from ELCs and illegal logging and hunting. The project expanded its focus to improve the slow process of community forestry recognition. It also looked at the development of the Cambodian REDD+ roadmap in cooperation with the Indigenous Peoples Rights project. 

Community access to land and natural resources remains a critical issue in Cambodia, illustrating the challenge of balancing sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor with the significant wealth generated by exploitation of the country’s natural assets.

The high-resolution global map of forest extent, loss and gain, published by the University of Maryland on 15 November 2013. Please click and view below link: