DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Cambodia is a small country in South East Asia, however, it is experiencing some of the highest levels of deforestation in the world posing significant issues for poverty rates in the country. Forest area accounts for 45.7% of the country, while nearly 61% of the population lives in rural areas placing the vast majority of Cambodians in direct contact with the high levels of deforestation occurring in the country.
Deforestation Threatens Economic Security of Cambodians
Cambodian deforestation and poverty relate as the loss of Cambodia’s forestry denies Cambodians a crucial resource for employment and commercial activity that many in Cambodia depend on. In 2021, 22.8% of Cambodian GDP involves agriculture, forestry and fishing industries compared to the global average of 3.5%.
Cambodia also relies on its vast forestlands for ecotourism, representing the majority of the 21% of Cambodia’s GDP being tourism in 2019, attracting over 2 million tourists that same year. Overall, 77% of Cambodians rely on forest resources for economic and agricultural purposes, according to USAID.
This makes the threat of Cambodian deforestation and poverty particularly threatening to the population’s living standards because of the huge share of people dependent on forestry for their livelihoods. Cambodia’s GDP per capita is only $1,591 as of 2021, according to The World Bank and could shrink if deforestation continues unmitigated threatening an increase in poverty rates.
In fact, since 2011 Cambodia is estimated to have lost 64% of its national forestry, much of it due to illegal logging, which Amnesty International says the Cambodian government has condoned through institutionalized corruption.
Corruption Driving Deforestation and Risks More Poverty
Illegal logging poses unique risks for Cambodian deforestation and poverty because corrupt officials have undercut an effective response to protect the economic interests of citizens. Rosewood is an endangered commodity that smugglers seek for timber extraction and despite an official ban on its harvesting widespread smuggling to Vietnam and China has continued.
The Cambodian government has also received criticism for widespread corruption allowing illegal logging to continue. The Ministry of the Environment and police forces have been accused of accepting bribes from illegal loggers.
Instances have become common where Cambodian citizens present proof to officials about illegal logging. The Cambodian officials travel to the areas under the pretext of investigating, only to take bribes, allowing illegal logging to continue, according to Amnesty International.
Corruption has reached such levels that a study of only five months between November 2016 to March 2017, found an estimated $13 million in bribes were paid to officials to permit illegal logging.
Such institutionalized corruption is related to poverty because of the significant amount of revenue lost to the Cambodian people, while corruption continues to undercut an effective response by the Cambodian government to address deforestation and the threat it presents to Cambodia’s economy in the long term. Cambodian deforestation presents a threat to the country’s food security due to the environmental impacts of deforestation.
Risk to Food Security in Cambodia
Cambodian deforestation and poverty further relate because deforestation increases conditions that can threaten agriculture. Deforestation releases carbon emissions into the air once forests no longer act as carbon sinks, accelerating the rise in temperatures that increase the risk of drought and subsequent crop failures, according to Global Forest Watch. Furthermore, Cambodia’s forests hold the equivalent of carbon emissions of what 2,200 United States coal plants emit into the atmosphere annually, Global Forest Watch reports.
Forests also act to absorb rainfall, meaning deforestation increases the risk of flooding when rainfall does occur, further threatening crop failures and damage to critical agricultural infrastructure.
These developments could exacerbate food insecurity for a country where already 13.4% of Cambodians are food insecure as of 2019, meaning higher poverty rates as human health would decline from malnourishment and economic productivity would decrease for a population weakened by hunger.
Addressing Cambodian deforestation and poverty therefore will require more efforts at sustainable development to mitigate the hazardous climate effects of deforestation in the country and the negative ramifications it can have on food security.
Cambodia is a country that relies heavily on its forestry for its socio-economic security. In recent decades this forestry faced reduction due to government corruption and the inaction it has caused. Cambodians have become more active in demanding accountability from their leaders, seen in the increased demand for community patrolling and willingness to expose corruption. This serves as a testament to what grassroots activism can accomplish to address deforestation and its risks for poverty both in Cambodia and globally.
– John Zak
Photo: Wikimedia Commons