The Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Ratankiri province, Cambodia, covers 250,000ha (1) of originally old-growth forests, home to rich biodiversity, providing crucial livelihood resources to surrounding villages, inhabited by Lao ethnic minorities, among others.
On March 14, 2011, a concession amounting to 8,825ha was awarded to Daunh Penh Agrico Co. under Cambodia’s Economic Land Concession (ELC) scheme. The ELC fully overlaps with the sanctuary (2). On November 8, 2011, two more ELCs for rubber plantations, also located within the sanctuary, were granted to Hoang Anh Andong Meas Co. (9,775ha) and Hoang Anh Lumphat Co. (9,470ha) (3); two companies which are believed to be subsidiaries of Vietnamese rubber giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) (4). Hence, total concession land associated to HAGL within the Sanctuary exceeds the legal ELC limit of 10,000ha per company (2).
Since 2012, all three companies have been accused by villagers and local rights groups of illegal logging outside their concessions areas (5;6). On a single patrol in April, 2013, more than 3000 freshly felled trees were found and trucks were spotted that brought the wood into the nearby ELC areas. Around 20-30 truckloads have been reported to leave the forest each day, until villagers and local rights groups started to report on the case. Illegal logging was estimated to have led to the cutting of 16,000 trees of luxury grade-timber from the sanctuary, having a market value of 400$ to 1,000$/m3. This results in a total estimated value of illegal timber up to 100 million dollars (6). ‘Laundering’ of illegal timber through ELCs located within forest areas is expanding in Cambodia: companies log outside their concession area, bring the wood into their area and ‘legalize’ it by claiming that it comes from clearing the forest for their plantations (4;7). Logged wood is said to be processed in close collaboration with Try Pheap business tycoon, alleged to control a massive network of illegal logging activities, ranging from individual traders, over military officers and police to high ranking government officials (4;7). Also in Lumphat wildlife sanctionary, local environmental officers are alleged to be involved in the illegal business (5).
Impacts have been far ranging, including vast forest degradation, deforestation and the destruction of biologically rich natural habitats, as well as a loss of livelihood due encroachment of community land and logging of resin trees, commonly tapped by locals (8). Resin trees are key for local communities, for which reason their logging is protected under national law. While families can live on for years by tapping resin trees, the companies felled them, offering 2$/tree of compensation to the families (8), further claiming to be beneficial to communities by bringing infrastructure such as roads and electricity (9).
In 2012, villagers started to document the issue. With support from the local NGO ADHOC, a report was submitted to national authorities, requesting further investigation (8). Also citizens patrols started to prevent deforestation and on November 13, 2013, 124 families filed a complaint for illegal logging against Agri Co Ltd. And Hoang Ang Lumphat (5). In May 2014, around 2,000ha of the sanctuary have been classified as community protected area (9), supported by NGO Birdlife International Cambodia, who has further funded community patrols (10). While this supports the community’s protection activities, it is also ironic, as it should be already protected by Cambodian law and environmental officers (10). However, corruption seems to be a central problem (4;7). According to villagers, recent attempts by authorities to inspect the company’s undertaking were blocked by local environmental officers who, in January 2014, torched an entire bridge that provided access to the ELC area (11).
As of February 2015, villager protests against the companies, illegal logging and timber laundering go on (9).