A nongovernmental organization focusing on fisheries development plans to replant a deforested area around central Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake in a bid to boost biodiversity.
The Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT) said it will replant 15 hectares (37 acres) in the so-called flooded forest that had been destroyed by rice farmers and other groups.
Flooded forests or freshwater swamp forests are those which are inundated with freshwater, either permanently or seasonally. They are normally seen along the lower reaches of rivers and around freshwater lakes.
Some 64 hectares (158 acres) of the flooded forest around the Tonle Sap Lake in Kompong Thom province were destroyed by the farmers during construction of water reservoirs in the area.
“In some areas there is only a little forest left, while in others there is nothing,” said FACT director Om Savath.
“My NGO and others will work together to replant the flooded forest,” he said.
FACT’s replanting plan will begin with six hectares (15 acres) in 2012.
Kompong Phluk community leader Tuy Yong said flooded forests provide vital shelter for fish to breed and will add to biodiversity in the Tonle Sap and other areas, increasing fish yield.
“The flooded forest is a place for all kinds of animals to live,” he said, adding that, since 1990, forest areas around the Tonle Sap had been destroyed largely by wealthy individuals developing the land for rice cultivation or creating water reservoirs.
“Some companies are clearing the flooded forest to grow rice and the authorities have allowed them to continue because the forest is already cleared,” he said.
Tuy Young said that in addition to the trees planted by the NGOs, the local community also plans to plant about 14,000 trees in the flooded forest around Tonle Sap.
Officials have said that some 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of area around the lake are in need of reforestation.
FACT’s Om Savath said that between 2005 and 2010, some 7,000 to 10,000 hectares (17,300 to 24,7000 acres) of flooded forest were destroyed in Battambang, Kompong Thom, and Pursat provinces, all of which border the Tonle Sap.
“While land prices were up, opportunists hired local fishermen to clear and burn the forest in Battambang, Kompong Thom, and Pursat, and they also dug reservoirs. Each reservoir was at least 50 hectares by 200 hectares (120 acres by 500 acres),” he said.
“They destroyed the flooded forest inside the reservoirs and cleared them out because they wanted to keep the water to use during the dry season rice.”
Forestry Administration official Tim Savuth said replanting the flooded forest is essential to increasing the area’s fish population.
“Generally speaking, the flooded forest will stabilize the environmental biodiversity and will reduce sediment in the water,” he said.
“The forest will create a good environment for the fish. If we lose 20 percent of the forest, we will lose 20 percent of the fish.”
Cambodian officials in 2005 estimated that around 700,000 hectares (1.73 million acres) of flooded forest remained in the five provinces surrounding the Tonle Sap. Earlier, the figure had been estimated at about 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres).
In 2010, Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Tonle Sap Authority set aside 600,000 hectares (1.48 million acres) of flooded forest for conservation under national law.
At the time, FACT’s Om Savath welcomed the move, but said that the government had acted too slow in protecting the forest. He said he doubted that 640,000 hectares (1.58 million acres) still existed for the government to set aside for conservation.
Tonle Sap officials had said at the time that large-scale farming and dry-season forest fires were the main factors contributing to the forest’s destruction, adding that agricultural land conversion had been concentrated mainly on the floodplain in Kompong Thom and Siem Reap provinces.
Reported by Sek Bandit for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.