A little-known Chinese firm has been granted a concession by the provincial government of Cambodia’s Stung Treng province to replant 27,000 hectares of “degraded” forest in Siem Pang district with fast-growing acacia and eucalyptus trees, according to The Phnom Penh Post Online report on Thursday (Jan 11).
The Chinese company, Siemon (Cambodia) Agricultural Comprehensive Company, plans to invest $200 million in the massive timber plantation project.
Stung Treng deputy provincial governor Duong Pov said that the land in question was degraded that it could not grow anything “therefore, there is no choice besides replanting the forest.”
When asked about environmental impact assessment for the project on Tuesday, he said there would be no impact on valuable natural forest as the area carved out for the project was already fully degraded.
But environmental groups say they are not sure if the forest is already destroyed in the first place.
Environmental activist Ouch Leng said company usually logs natural trees and plants useless trees and “it will run away afterward.”
Last year, local Cambodians protested a similar project by a Korean company, Think Biotech, on land stretching between the Mekong river and Prey Lang forest, accusing the company of clear-cutting rich timberland and replanting with acacia trees.
Cambodia-based anthropologist and forest researcher Courtney Work said truly degraded forest should show no signs of regeneration and less than 10 percent of canopy cover. She noted that acacia and eucalyptus are the most common cash crops for timber because they grow straight and fast.
“If they are doing it as a restoration project and what we see is forest that is being clear-cut, then no, that is not a restoration project,” said Work.