Deforestation in Cambodia – Causes, Effects, Overview

In recent years, there has been increased deforestation in Cambodia. Historically, Cambodia has not experienced extensive deforestation, making it one of the world’s most forest-endowed nations. However, its forests and ecosystems are in danger due to widespread deforestation for economic development.

Deforestation in Cambodia – History and General Overview

One of the worst rates of deforestation in the world is seen in Cambodia. The primary rainforest cover in Cambodia has decreased from nearly 70% in 1970 to 3.1% as of now. Even worse, Cambodia’s rates of deforestation are still rising.

Since the end of the 1990s, the rate of total forest loss has increased by almost 75%. Between 1990 and 2005, Cambodia lost 2.5 million hectares of forest, of which 334,000 hectares were primary forest. There are currently fewer than 322,000 hectares of primary forest left.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that between 1990 and 2010, Cambodia lost 22 percent of its forest cover, which is equivalent to an area larger than Haiti. Although forests covered over 57% of the country as of 2010, just 3.2% of them were primary forests.

Using US satellite data, Open Development Cambodia, an NGO based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, demonstrated a notable decline in forest cover from 72.1% in 1973 to 46.3% in 2014. The loss happened mostly after 2000.

The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) created a sustainable forest management plan by international standards and ceased all forest concession activities in 2001.

A restricted quantity of forest can be cut each year through a bidding process to meet the domestic timber demand, all while attempting to preserve the forest cover.

With a 13-year cutting cycle, a harvest limit of 0.8 m3 per hectare has been set, according to the National Forest Program 2010–2029.

The RGC has established a goal for Cambodia’s Millennium Development, which is to keep the country’s land cover at 60% by 2015. To achieve this, 532,615 hectares of non-forest land would need to be turned into forests.

But as of 2016, 87, 424 square kilometers, or 48.14%, of the land is still covered under forest cover.

A country’s forest distribution varies. The region with the highest rate of forest cover as of 2016 is the hilly northwest and southwest. Seven of the twenty-five provinces have more than 60% forest cover.

The value of Cambodia’s forests is expected to decrease if the government does not adopt a more sustainable approach to managing them.

Causes of Deforestation in Cambodia

  • Government Resource Management for Development
  • Illegal Logging
  • Commercial Logging
  • Forest Fires
  • Garment Industry
  • Fuelwood Consumption

1. Government Resource Management for Development

The forests of Cambodia have enormous potential to advance the development of the nation, according to the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC). Timber exports can help the government raise the foreign exchange needed to fund development and reconstruction.

Notwithstanding the possible benefits of using forest resources, the government has been under pressure from both domestic and foreign organizations that are worried about deforestation.

Local communities in the United States depend on forests for both non-timber and timber resources, in addition to the benefits they provide to fishing and rice cultivation.

The deforestation in Cambodia has drawn the attention of numerous nongovernmental organizations and environmental groups worldwide. As a result of these pressures, the Cambodian government passed and subsequently repealed numerous limitations on timber exports in the 1990s.

Between 35 and 40 percent of the woodlands were deemed hazardous in 1999 because of land mines, continuing hostilities, and renegade armed forces. The country with the most land mines per capita is Cambodia.

Forests cannot be used because of land mines. The lack of trustworthy information about the size, makeup, and accessibility issues of the current woods is another obstacle.

2. Illegal Logging

The woods of Cambodia are greatly threatened by illegal logging. It permits illegal and unreported deforestation, which makes it possible to plunder Cambodia’s forests.

There are numerous instances where the military logs illegally without the government’s awareness. Officials from the central government find it challenging to travel to regions that the former Pol Pot soldiers still hold.

Unlawful commercial timber interests profit from unlawful cutting by taking advantage of lax law enforcement. The military and strong subcontractors are responsible for the majority of illicit deforestation.

3. Commercial Logging

Over the past ten years, there has been a shift in central forest management to prioritize commercial timber interests, which frequently align with extensive deforestation. 25 private businesses were allocated over 4.7 million hectares for commercial logging by 1999.

This nation produced 3.4 million cubic meters of wood in 1997, five times the amount of wood that a forest could sustainably yield. Social and environmental facets of sustainable management were largely ignored.

Overlogging, disputes over rights with local populations, and a limited ability to contribute to national growth and poverty alleviation have resulted from this.

Following the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, foreign businesses started engaging in commercial logging. Forest concessions to private enterprises increased between 1994 and 1996, which was consistent with the RGC’s efforts to liberalize its economy.

In Cambodia, a cubic meter of forest costs $14, whereas it costs $74 internationally. The devaluation of Cambodia’s woods has resulted in foreign acquisition and financial loss for the country.

In an attempt to liberalize its economy, Cambodia has instituted Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) for the development of agro-industrial areas and concessions of forest land.

Proponents of the program contend that ELCs will promote foreign investment, innovative agricultural technologies, and connections between trade markets and create new jobs.

However, detractors of the program contend that ELCs will violate local communities’ land rights, jeopardize their means of subsistence, and lead to social unrest.

There is often overlap between the concessions given and occupied communal lands. Economic land concessions were the source of about one-third of land conflicts in Cambodia in 2014 (97 out of 308 land conflict instances).

4. Forest Fires

Natural occurrences in arid deciduous forests are forest fires. On the other hand, human activity significantly increases the frequency of fires. Approximately 90% of forest fires that occur during the dry season are started by humans, such as reckless smokers, hunters, kids, and farmers who burn agricultural leftovers.

Because nearly yearly ground fires burn or harm coppice shoots, spontaneous regeneration is inhibited in degraded dry deciduous forests.

Consequently, regrowth slows down and biomass is lost. The extraction of fuel wood and lumber occurs concurrently, which gradually erodes the amount of vegetative material and the health of the forest.

5. Garment Industry

According to a recent investigation, manufacturers in the garment industry in Cambodia may be causing deforestation by using illicit forest wood to generate electricity.

According to the survey, garment factories were found to utilize at least 562 tons of forest wood every day, which is equivalent to burning up to 1,418 hectares (3,504 acres) of forest annually.

According to reports, deforestation cost Cambodia an estimated 2.7 million hectares (6.7 million acres) of forest between 2001 and 2019.

Although the apparel sector does play a part in deforestation, analysts claim that the main cause of forest loss is economic land concessions awarded by the Cambodian government for agro-industrial uses.

6. Fuelwood Consumption

The resources of forests are essential to Cambodians who live in or close to them for a wide range of goods and services. People who live near forests virtually exclusively harvest non-timber forest products; they do not harvest timber.

Forest products that aren’t wood are used for both commercial and subsistence needs. Products from non-timber forests include fuel, food, medication, and agricultural inputs. For two millennia, people who live in forests and indigenous entrepreneurs have depended on forests as a primary source of revenue.

Timber resources are utilized to produce charcoal, firewood, and construction materials. In Cambodia, 90% of fuel comes from fuelwood; fossil fuels are rarely used.

In places like the waterlogged forest of Tonle Sap, the primary source of deforestation has been the production of fuelwood. By utilizing firewood to generate energy, garment manufacturers in Cambodia have played a role in the deforestation of the region.

According to research by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, trees provided impoverished households in the survey with 42% of their yearly household value, or $200.

Forests provided medium-sized households with an average of thirty percent of their annual household worth, or $345. The rural households that live close to the woodlands rely heavily on the trees for their livelihoods.

These populations suffer from deforestation because it threatens their means of subsistence. The impoverished, whose access to resources and revenue sources is limited, rely more on forest resources.

Effects of Deforestation in Cambodia

  • Environmental Effects
  • Rice Crops
  • Fisheries
  • Wildlife
  • Indigenous People

1. Environmental Effects

The forests of Cambodia are significant both domestically and internationally. In addition to protecting watersheds and storing carbon, forests also promote recreation and the preservation of biodiversity.

They also contain rare ancient tropical rainforests rich in biodiversity and absorb climate gases.

With 11 million hectares of total forest cover in 1999, each hectare of the forest could store 150 tons of carbon, or 1.6 billion tons of carbon annually, in Cambodia’s forest. A deforestation of 100,000 hectares will leave 15 million tons of carbon in the atmosphere. 

2. Rice Crops

For the water currents that irrigate rice fields, the trees are particularly crucial. A reduction in the amount of forest cover exacerbates stream erosion, flooding, and siltation, endangering water currents that directly sustain the livelihoods of the Cambodian people.

3. Fisheries

The productivity of Cambodia’s freshwater bodies, which many Cambodians depend on for their food—fish—is severely impacted by deforestation.

The flooding of forests is essential to the production of Cambodia’s freshwater bodies, including the Tonle Sap River, the Great Lake, and the Mekong River.

Underwater forests act as breeding grounds, provide refuge for young and mature fish species, and promote the growth of phytoplankton and zooplankton.

However, overexploitation, deforestation, and other environmental degradation have caused high productivity, rich vegetation, and biodiversity to deteriorate over the past few decades.

Numerous Cambodians are negatively impacted by this. The riparian provinces of the Mekong River, the Great Lake, and the Tonle Sap River are home to around 90% of Cambodia’s population.

Freshwater bodies are essential for subsistence fishing for Cambodians, particularly the impoverished rural rice farmers. After rice, freshwater fish is the most common cuisine in Cambodia and accounts for 70% of the animal protein consumed there.

In addition to limiting access for fishermen, deforestation reduces the area accessible for ecologically productive activities like breeding, which lowers fishing capacity.

4. Wildlife

The forests of Cambodia are home to numerous kinds of wildlife that are globally endangered. More than sixty species that meet IUCN criteria for globally threatened, near-threatened, or data-deficient status call Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary home.

There are fifty vulnerable species at Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, and twenty-one species have been given priority for genetic conservation. The loss of habitat is the main factor contributing to the decline of wildlife species in Cambodia.

The main factors contributing to the decrease or depletion of habitat are land use conversion and deforestation from illicit and commercial logging.

5. Indigenous People

There are about 200,000 indigenous people in 24 tribes spread throughout 15 provinces in the southwest and northeast of Cambodia. They reside in secluded, isolated locations encircled by forests.

Their way of life and culture are reliant on the trees. Their primary source of food, clothing, medicine, and money is derived from the harvesting of non-timber forest products.

Effective Solutions to Deforestation in Cambodia

  • Fuel Efficient Stoves
  • Community Forestry
  • Community Protected Areas
  • Governance and Legal Framework
  • Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Program
  • Afforestation
  • Fire Control

1. Fuel Efficient Stoves

The easiest and most affordable way to cut back on fuelwood usage is definitely to use fuel-efficient stoves. This kind of technology can reduce the amount of wood used by 25 to 50%, depending on the type of stove and usage habits.

Additionally, some stoves come with piped smoke stacks, which can lower indoor pollution and enhance family health. Longer-term reliance on fuelwood may be lessened with the establishment of LPG distribution centers and higher household income.

Using inexpensive mosquito nets in conjunction with mosquito control measures can do away with the requirement to burn biomass to keep livestock safe.

2. Community Forestry

Cambodia created community forests in 1994 to protect the rights of the inhabitants to forest resources. Locals can now actively take part in the preservation, development, and protection of forest resources thanks to this program.

Conflicting interests over how to manage local forests, the government’s unwillingness to give communities control over resource management, strong special interests obscuring local interests, the expense of management, and a lack of necessary support are some of the difficulties that have emerged.

Certain scholars contend that revisions to policies and industrial forestry reform are necessary for the community forestry framework. Despite its flaws, those who reside in rural areas have come to love this program.

In 21 provinces and 610 villages totaling 5,066 square kilometers were engaged in community forestry as of 2016. 2.8 percent of Cambodia’s land is covered by community forests, a negligible amount when compared to the concessions granted to commercial forestry.

3. Community Protected Areas

King Sihanouk’s reign saw the establishment of the first protected area in 1998. To regulate biodiversity and guarantee the preservation of natural resources within protected areas, however, a protected areas law was approved in 2008.

This law acknowledged the public’s and indigenous people’s rights to participate in decision-making regarding the sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity.

Community-protected areas (CPAs) are a way to involve the local community in protected area management planning, monitoring, and decision-making. Indigenous people are the principal users of natural resources in the area.

There are now 153 villages inside 51 protected areas as of 2018, an increase from the previous year.

As the natural defense system, the communities work with the Ministry of Environment to patrol the forest and defend against crimes against the environment like poaching and illegal logging.

In addition to financial help from the government and development partners, the communities get revenue from the collection of non-timber goods.

International development partners have contributed more than 32 million USD since 2017 to promote the preservation of natural areas and the conservation of wildlife.

4. Governance and Legal Framework

While the Ministry of Environment (MOE) was given legal authority to oversee protected places by the protected areas law, certain areas, such as conservation areas and protected forests, are governed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF)’s Forestry Administration.

MOE and MAFF are in charge of the economic land concession, which is a public land lease to the private sector for the development of the agroindustry.

The RGC voted in April 2016 to move 18 conservation forests totaling more than 2.6 million hectares from MAFF to MOE, while 73 ELC were moved under MAFF’s jurisdiction.

A 1.4 million-hectare biodiversity conservation corridor, or the link between protected areas around the nation, was established by the RGC in 2017.

Since 2015, community, NGO, and development partners have been consulted in the drafting of an environmental code. The efficacy of conservation management, biodiversity restoration, and environmental preservation is enhanced by this code.

The eleventh draft of the environmental code states that this law provides standards for sustainable resource management, open access to environmental information, and environmental impact assessments for development projects. As of April 2018, the law is in draft 11th.

5. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Program

The National REDD+ Strategy (NRS) 2017–2021 was approved by RGC. This strategy created an interministerial platform to enhance natural resources and forest areas to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Under the REDD+ program, private businesses can work together to buy and safeguard carbon stocks from developing nations as part of cooperate social responsibility (CSR) or climate commitments.

These projects provide funding for protected area management and provide alternative, sustainable land use options compared to other uses like economic land concessions.

The Walt Disney Corporation paid 2.6 million USD for carbon offsets from Cambodia in 2016. Carbon credits have brought almost 11 million USD to Cambodia since 2016.

6. Afforestation

The Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Department claims that the Cambodian government began afforestation initiatives in 1985.

The plan was for reforesting 500–800 hectares per year, with a target of 100,000 hectares (1000 km2). By 1997, 7,500 hectares (7.5 km2) had been planted; however, more ambitious coverage was not possible because of restricted funding.

People in Cambodia are encouraged to plant trees on July 9, which is the annual Arbor Day event, which falls early in the rainy season.

Schools and temples provide educational programs on seeds and soil, while TV and radio stations promote afforestation efforts.

7. Fire Control

Controlling fires was essential to rebuilding the area’s woods. Many young regenerating trees can grow to the height and thickness of their bark to withstand future ground fires if the fire can be put out for four to five years.

This would suggest that in degraded forests with “high potential” for quick regrowth, assisted natural regeneration (ANR) techniques should concentrate on putting out fires.

Finding degraded forest locations with good soil and moisture levels, and a high density of coppice shoots and saplings—that is, at least 250 to 300 shoots per hectare—may be one of the project’s activities. Participants in the project recommend starting with places that are adjacent to communities.

In addition, the project would supply equipment, hire jobless kids from the hamlet to serve as fire monitors and instruct community members in fire prevention and control methods. Funds from the project would be used to build and maintain fire lines that are at least 5 meters wide.


As we have seen, the rate of deforestation in Cambodia is massive. The government and international community are doing what they can to stop or reduce the rate of deforestation in Cambodia but, Cambodians still have a role to play.

Apart from developing innovative and eco-friendly cattle ranching methods, they can also help plant trees in deforested areas.

This means, that all hands must be on deck to deal with the crisis we caused.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.