Think Biotech reforestation concession, Kratie and Stung Treng province, Cambodia

Reforesting forested land? The controversial Think Biotech project turns diverse natural forests into timber monocultures, grabbing the land of indigenous Kuy and local Khmers, who organize to halt further expansion.


Description

This controversial forestry concession was granted to the private Korean company Think Biotech Co. Ltd in 2012 by the Cambodian Government with the aim to restore a ‘degraded’ forest at the edge of the biodiverse Prey Lang Forest. The concession was awarded within the context of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed in 2009, between Cambodia and South Korea. The objective of this MoU was to foster the cooperation in forest governance as well as investment into forestry projects in Cambodia to maintain and increase forest cover within the context of climate change concerns. The company, which is a subsidiary of the South Korean explosives and weapons producers Hanwha Corporation, started its operation in June, 2012 in Kampong Cham commune (Kratie province). Since then, vast tracks of lands have been cleared to establish a massive Acacia sp. monoculture tree plantation on their 34,000ha concession area [1,2,3,4]. The activities of the company have brought large impacts upon local land- and forest users and the environment. The company and the governmental forestry administration claim the land to be ‘degraded’ forest land. While this applies to some smaller areas of the 34,000ha concession, the larger parts of the ‘reforestation’ concession area are, surprisingly, covered by diverse natural forests, which the company is now clearcutting to set up an industrial monoculture. Therefore, the company is currently causing deforestation to set up the forestry plantation. The change from a diverse forest-agriculture landscape to an industrial tree plantation landscape comes with huge biodiversity costs, river pollution, loss of wildlife as well as with strong impacts on local communities of Kuy indigenous and Khmer. They have been living within the concession area for decades, practicing small-scale shifting and permanent agriculture [1,2,3,4]. The development of the plantation was characterized by a complete lack of consultation and many farmers only found out about the project when the company arrived with machinery to clear the forests located on the concessions area [1,3]. Many lost agricultural land to the company and with the clearcutting of natural forests, most local people have lost access to forest resources that are key to their livelihoods, such as resin trees, herbs, rattan, mushrooms, wildlife and the like. Some of their burial grounds and sacred forests have also been destroyed through the plantation development [1,2,3,4]. Organized protests first started in May, 2013 and involved several members of the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), a grassroots social movement that had emerged to protect the remaining Prey Lang forest. More than 100 people gathered and camped out in front of the provincial company office, however, at that time, the company refused to negotiate [5]. A few days later, more than 300 protesters seized two company trucks [6]. After some time, the protesters achieved that some agricultural and housing land, as well as community forests were respected and carved out from the plantation development. Some compensation payments were made. However, the impacts upon livelihoods continue to be strong because the diverse forest landscape, on which the livelihood of most locals depended, is replaced by an industrial acacia monoculture. If the project moves forward a total of 1,900 families, almost 6,000 ha of community forests, more than 4400 ha of rice fields and 10 ha of sacred forests and burial grounds would be affected [2]. In May 2017, fourteen community representatives travelled to Phnom Penh to petition the South Korean embassy to halt the expansion of this controversial reforestation concession. The embassy refused to receive their petition [7]. Since then, the company has continued to expand their tree plantation. The advocacy work of the PLCN and some of the community members to stop the concession development goes on. 

Basic Data
NameThink Biotech reforestation concession, Kratie and Stung Treng province, Cambodia
CountryCambodia
ProvinceKratie province, Stung Treng province
SiteBoeng Chas commune (Kratie); Kampong Cham commune (Kratie); Siem Bouk commune (Steung Traing)
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Deforestation
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
REDD/CDM
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific CommoditiesAcacia
Land
Timber
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe related MoU between Cambodia’s Forestry Administration (FA) and the Korean Forest Service (KFS) was signed in 2009 [2]. The company was introduced to the Forestry Administration of Cambodia in 2010 and the concession was subsequently granted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (MAFF) in 2012 [1].

This land concession is not an Economic Land Concession (ELC) that usually governs large agro-industrial plantation development in Cambodia. It is a reforestation concession that was set up and granted by the Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries [1,2]. Among the formal purposes of this concession was to protect the forest frontier by setting up an artificial production forest, to stop ‘illegal’ use of trees by locals, and to participate in emission reduction programs such as the Clean Development Mechanisms, although in practice the project did never register as such [1].

Around 1,900 families are expected to be affected if the entire concession area is converted into a tree plantation [2,7]. Based on average Cambodian household size, this corresponds to a rough estimate of 8,500 to 9,000 affected individuals.

Think Biotech Co. Ltd is a subsidiary of the Korean explosives and weapons producer Hanwha Corporation [8].

Investment size is unknown.
Project Area (in hectares)34,007
Level of Investment (in USD)unknown
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population8500-9000
Start Date06/2012
Company Names or State EnterprisesThink Biotech (Cambodia) Co. Ltd from Republic of Korea - plantation development
Hanwha Corporation from Republic of Korea - Parent company of Think Biotech Co. Ltd.
Relevant government actorsKorean Forest Service (KFS), Republic of Korea

Forestry Administration (FA), Cambodia

Ministry of Environment, Cambodia

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Cambodia
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersPrey Lang Community Network (PLCN), www.preylang.net/
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Outcome
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Land demarcation
Migration/displacement
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Development of AlternativesThe petition submitted by the PLCN to the Korean Embassy (who rejected to accept it), as well as to Cambodia's Ministry of Environment and the Forestry Administration proposed to change the forestry activity developed under this concession from a tree plantation to a REDD+ area (REDD = Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) [7]. That way, local communities could be involved in forest management and the characteristics of the natural forest would be maintained.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.As of November 2017, the expansion of the tree plantation continues, encroaching natural forests and villagers' land.
Sources and Materials
Legislations

Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC). 2008. Sub-decree for granting user rights to plant trees within state forest lands.
[click to view]

References

[1] Scheidel, A. and C. Work. 2016. Large-scale forest plantations for climate change mitigation? New frontiers of deforestation and land grabbing in Cambodia. In: ICAS Colloquium on "Global governance/politics, climate justice & agrarian/social justice: linkages and challenges. Colloquium Paper No. 11. The Hague.
[click to view]

[2] Work, C. 2017. Forest islands and castaway communities: REDD+ and forest restoration in Prey Lang Forest. Forests, 8(2), 1–21.
[click to view]

Links

[4] Board J., Channel News Asia, "Cambodian villagers fear for future amid forest burning dispute: Special report" August 10, 2016
[click to view]

[3] Turton, S. and P. Seangly. 2016. Seeds of destruction? The Phnom Penh Post, 23 Feb, p. February 23.
[click to view]

[5] The Phnom Penh Post (May, 27, 2013) "Villagers camp out to protest ‘land grab’"
[click to view]

[6] The Phnom Penh Post (May, 28, 2013) "Villagers seize trucks in protest"
[click to view]

[7] The Phnom Penh Post (May, 10, 2017) "Calls to halt ‘reforestation’ plan".
[click to view]

[8] Hanwha Corporation (December 31, 2013 and 2012), Separate Financial Statements.

Media Links

Channel News Asia - Meet Som No, the man fighting Cambodia's reforestation
[click to view]

Other Documents

Villagers submit a petition to halt the tree plantation Source: https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/villagers-fighting-korean-tree-farm-hopeless-meeting-129366/
[click to view]

Think Biotech concession Concession area covers 34,007 ha and is located in Kratie and Stung Treng province. Source: Google Earth (satellite image) and Licadho (concession data - http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/land_concessions/)
[click to view]

Logged timber stocks at the edge of Prey Lang Forest Logged timber stocks of the diverse forests that previously stood on the concession area. The timber is logged to set up an acacia tree plantation. Photo supplied by Vannrith Rong.
[click to view]

Deforestation and replacement of natural forests by tree plantations Pink area indicates tree cover loss. The pink area in this screenshot is located within the concession area. Source http://www.globalforestwatch.org, see also [1] Scheidel & Work, 2016. https://www.tni.org/files/publication-downloads/11-icas_cp_scheidel_and_work.pdf
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorEJatlas Southeast Asia Team (ejatlas.asia"at"gmail.com)
Last update18/10/2017
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