An Economic Analysis of Tropical Forest Land Use Options, Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia
Ratanakiri is a richly forested province located in remote Northeast Cambodia. Forestland in Ratanakiri represents an extremely valuable natural resource that needs to be correctly managed if its benefits are to be maximised. Despite the lack of a land use plan for the province, a number of commercial development activities are underway. Many of these options will result in the destruction of pristine forest areas. Because local communities in Ratanakiri are totally dependent on the forest and the rapid rate of deforestation is evident throughout Cambodia, sustainable forest managementoptions urgently need to be identified for the area. Over 85% of the population of Ratanakiri belong to ethnic minorities (Highlanders) who for centuries have made their living in and around the forest. These people clear the forest for farming and collect subsistence products such as fuelwood, medicine, food, and construction materials. Villages are based within locally recognised boundaries but local communities have no legal rights to the land. Foreign and national commercial interest in the forest land of the province is intense. Current concession areas granted for timber and oil palm production encompass many of the traditional and currently farmed lands of the Highlanders. Despite this, consultation with local people over the development of the area has been minimal. The effects of these outside pressures are already apparent. The increased land pressure on the uplands has resulted in shorter fallow periods between farming cycles and consequent loss of soil fertility and yields. Some farmers have been pushed deeper into the forest to open new land for cultivation, while others are seeking out new but insecure livelihoods as wage labourers. At the current rate, the local people risk losing their land. Urgent measures are needed to protect their rights to their customary land.
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