Venerable Buddhist Monks,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors,
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the name of their Majesties the King and Queen of Cambodia and as the Head of Royal Government of Cambodia, today I am most pleased and honored to participate in this solemn Arbor Day event. I am also happy to see and talk with you here in Sihanoukville!
May I express my deep appreciation for the warmest welcome that you have extended to us. I praise the MAFF for selecting this Kbal Chhay watershed for this celebration of Arbor Day. Indeed, we must act to transform this area into a forest once again. This we must do not only to help ensure that the supply of water to Sihanoukville remains fresh and clean, but also to promote this beautiful area into an important eco-tourism destination.
Their Majesties the King and Queen deeply regret that they cannot share in the pleasure of being here today. As you know, our venerable King is under medical treatment, and we all want him to remain well. But please be assured that their Majesties are always deeply concerned for all the people, and they love you all. They have conveyed their message to all of you on this joyful Arbor Day. They said that they will very soon return to Cambodia, so that they can participate in the National Elections of 27 July 2003.
The tree-planting that we all do today has become a tradition. Originally, it was initiated to contribute to the implementation of the long-term vision of the Royal Government in conserving and protecting our nation’s natural forests and wildlife. This is because, “… forests are the veins of agriculture, the life of our farmers and a source of economic growth, thus we all should collectively preserve and protect the forests and replant new trees“.
Today’s celebration of Arbor Day here and across our nation, is of great significance for motivating our citizens, civil servants, armed forces and the local authorities at all levels to participate in reforestation, conservation and protection of Cambodia’s forests and wildlife as well as maintain our sources of water. This is also another contribution to our unceasing efforts to push and promote national economic development and poverty reduction among our people.
Today’s tree planting is consistent with our traditional values and vision for the development and protection of our nation’s invaluable natural forest assets. Moreover, I strongly believe that all Cambodians can contribute to renewing and even expanding our forests. Let us all commit and act to plant all types and as many of trees as we can, in all available areas in pagodas, villages, public places, and along the roads and canals. We should also commit to take good care of the trees that we plant, to nurture their growth. Indeed, such contribution will benefit not only ourselves but the community and the world at large, and not only today for ourselves, but for our children, and their children, well into the future.
Three decades of war and internal conflicts destroyed much of our country and left us all with innumerable painful legacies, particularly poverty. Death, war and poverty have posed serious pressures on our natural resources, especially the forests and wildlife, including this area the Kbal Chhay watershed, which has long suffered serious degradation, de-forestation and over-hunting of wildlife.
We have already seen the dangers of serious degradation here at the Kbal Chhay watershed. The Royal Government has taken action and has organized a program to ensure the sustainable management of the remaining forest stocks. The Kbal Chhay watershed has been designated as a protected area for the purpose of maintaining the supply of fresh water to Sihanoukville. The MAFF and the Department of Forestry and Wildlife have also been instructed to implement stringent measures to protect, preserve and manage the natural resources and wildlife as well as undertake reforestation in this area.
Indeed, we started this effort some years ago. I still remember that in 1999 HE Sar Kheng come to officiate at a tree-planting ceremony here in Kbal Chhay, right after the government decided to eliminate anarchic activities in forest exploitation and occupation of land.
We should also note that in the Second Term of the Royal Government of Cambodia has achieved the full peace and security over the entire country, we have also secured the confidence of the country and the international development partners that we are on the correct path in forestry reform. Indeed, we now have a clear vision and program toward sustainable conservation, management and development of our forests.
With pleasure I have listened to the speech earlier made by HE Chan Sarun. HE Sarun outlined the important outcomes realized by the Royal Government in implementing the program on forestry and wildlife development. It is a significant achievement that Cambodia’s forest cover has increased from 58.6% (10,638,209 hectares) in 1997 to 61.14% (11,104,285 hectares) in 2002. This is an important achievement of the second term of the Royal Government.
Let me state clearly here that I consider Cambodia’s success in sustainable forestry management vital to my political life. Therefore, during the second term the Royal Government we have taken strong measures, and have acted with determination to combat forestry crimes, improve regulations and build a sound institutional capacity to ensure sustainable management of forestry and natural resources in Cambodia.
During its first term from 1993 to 1998, the Royal Government made several mistakes in the management and use of forest resources. Errors were made in the granting of land concessions to companies in excessive quantity and extremely low price. During the Second Term of the Royal Government, the mistakes made during the First Term could no longer be easily corrected.
All throughout the Second Term of the Royal Government, I have exerted my best efforts to get our entire house back in order. It has been a difficult task, since the effort involved not only implementing the correct policies, but also required work to repair the mistakes made during the First Term.
With determined commitment, I have set firm measures to get our house back in order. We have set measures to raise the levels of timber royalties to rational economic rates. We have reviewed concessions and cancelled the investment agreements of some concessions, returning the forest into the nation’s permanent assets.
The difficult work has borne good results. During the Second Term, the Royal Government has cancelled 15 concession agreements which had been made during the First Term. These agreements cover more than three million hectares, of which we have returned 1.3 million hectares back into the protected forest domain.
Furthermore, the coverage of some other existing concessions are being reduced, so that the portions cancelled will also be returned to the protected zones, while others will be transformed into social land concessions for the productive use of the poor and vulnerable people, thus helping reduce poverty.
Currently, the government is processing the cancellation of 2 other concessions, covering 499,700 hectares.
The Law on Forestry, which is the principal legal instrument to guide the sustainable management of our forest resources, has been effective since 31 August 2002. The Royal Government has also issued a declaration on forestry policy of 26 July 2002 and has been actively and continuously formulating sub-decrees, prakas and related regulations to ensure the effective and prompt implementation of the forestry policies and laws. In this context, I urge the MAFF to exert its best efforts to organize a new and stronger line structure of forestry administration as soon as possible, to accelerate the implementation of the Forestry Law and programs across the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Even as the national elections approach, the Royal Government will not relax in its efforts at forestry reform. We are committed to the continuous and strict implementation of forestry reform, with the strongest determination and resolve. The Royal Government will maintain the suspension of logging and timber transport in all concession areas until the sustainable forest management plans and the social and environmental impact assessments of those plans are finalized and officially approved. If any company is found unable to implement the required conditions in the sustainable operation of its concession, the Royal Government will cancel the agreement.
Overall, in the implementation of policies and strategies in the forestry reform, in its Second Term the Royal Government has been praised and supported by the national and international communities for its numerous pragmatic efforts to preserve and protect and sustainably manage Cambodia’s forest resources. Nevertheless, the Royal Government recognizes that these achievements are still inadequate to meet our nation’s needs. More effort, determination and time are required to realize the sound development of forestry in Cambodia to match the best practices in the region and the world.
Indeed, we are continuously reviewing the forestry reform policies of the Royal Government, particularly the links between the agriculture and forestry components aimed at improving forest productivity and improving program effectivity, thereby maintaining environmental balance in our nation.
With this purpose in mind, I would like to take the opportunity to provide some recommendations, as follows:
First, I request the MAFF to strengthen the implementation of the monitoring and reporting project on forestry crimes through the strengthening of institutional capacity of the Royal Government, ensuring ownership in the project by adopting as quickly as possible the work plan and operating budget for 2003-2004.
Second, we must all work to improve and strengthen working relationships with Cambodia’s development partners, especially within the framework of working group on management of natural resources.
Third, work on the passage of the prakas on the management of revenues from forestry by cooperating with the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
Fourth, promote the adoption of the sub-decree on forestry communities, ensuring that the sub-decree is consistent with the sub-decree and policy statement on social land concessions.
Fifth, formulate an action and development plan for local timber market and ensure continuing consultation with the international community on forestry policies.
Cambodia has a great potential in agriculture, particularly diversified agriculture where many potentials in rice, livestock, freshwater and sea fishing, vegetables and flowers, and industrial crops such as rubber, palm oil, cashew, cotton, tobacco and tubers. Many of these still require proper development.
Indeed, rice is the most important agricultural crop in Cambodia, covering approximately 2.3 million hectares, or 90% of the country’s total cultivated land. Our farmers still use traditional cultivation methods since 60% of rice produced is only for subsistence.
While in the near future we expect to increase rice productivity from 1.3 ton per hectare to 2 ton per hectare, such an achievement will still be low by regional standards. Our neighbors Viet Nam and Thailand have already achieved 3-4 tons of yields per hectare. The Royal Government has been working hard to strengthen research on high-yielding rice seeds, expand agricultural lands and extend the irrigation systems to enable increased rice productivity and ultimately attain food self-sufficiency as well as production for export. Currently, surpluses have already been achieved in a few provinces, but other areas still face production shortages.
All these are clear indications of Cambodia’s great potential in agriculture in ensuring food security, and even more in attracting and strengthening and expanding the bases for economic growth, which will have a positive and quick impact on improving the rural livelihoods.
Having seen this, the RGC has set long-term development strategies for agriculture over the period of next 5-10 years as follows:
Expanded rural infrastructure and irrigation as the cornerstone of our strategy to improve agricultural productivity. The RGC will need to drastically increase its investment in rural infrastructure and irrigation over the next 5-10 years to improve agricultural production and productivity. Specifically, we aim to increase irrigated lands from 20% in 2002 to 24% in 2007.
Provision of micro-finance: The serious lack of financial services in the rural areas is a key obstacle for the growth of agro products and rural development. The Royal Government has been working hard to strengthen the rural credit system aimed at creating employment and increasing income for the poor, particularly by establishing the Rural Development Bank. Indeed we must ensure the sustainable development of micro-finance and gradually expand the services to cover small and medium enterprises.
Improve research and extension on agro techniques: The Royal Government considers research and extension on high-yielding technology and know-how in agriculture as a key aspect to the improved productivity and the modernization of Cambodian agriculture.
Strengthen the distribution of agricultural equipment and inputs: Improved access to quality fertilizer and agricultural equipment is crucial to increasing farm productivity. Fertilizer use by farmers varies considerably in relation to limitations in supply and prices. High transport costs, combined with illegal charges also constrain supplies and increase marketing costs. We need to pay more attention to improvements in this area.
Strengthen agro-product processing: Due to the lack of capital or resources for development of processing industries, our farmers export raw or unprocessed commodities to neighboring countries, and are thus forced to sell at low prices. The small-scale rice mills available in the local areas cannot produce export-quality rice. The Royal Government has encouraged investments in modern rice mills as well as food processing factories necessary to develop our potentials in agro products exports.
Diversify market access for farmers: Aside from rice, Cambodian farmers are able to plant fruits, raise animals and nurture pond fishes that can generate employment and additional income complementary to their income from rice harvesting. However, after production they lack access to markets due to poor information channels. In addition, there are many traders but most are too small size, lack market information and financing. Furthermore, illegal charges collected during transport constrain supply as well as increase transport costs. We have learned many lessons from our experiences with state intervention in the collection or buying of agro products with the purpose to ensure price stability, and in organizing collectives and state companies. However, all these measures have failed due to the violation of the market-economy principles, corruption, and delays and red-tape within the state bureaucracy in payments to farmers. Moreover, any state intervention or careless subsidy to the agriculture sector would be inconsistent with the trends in integration in the region and the world, as well as against the requirements for Cambodia’s membership in the WTO. Learning from the past, the Royal Government has selected the strategy of integrating private, agricultural enterprises with farm households based on market principles as our strategy for development.
Land management: Cleary defined ownership of land is important to encourage farmers to invest in their fields, yet currently only 10% of farmers have land titles. With secure titles, these can be used as collateral in obtaining credit from banks. Therefore, we must strengthen land ownership to avoid land conflicts and promote investment in the expansion of agro-industrial crops such as rubber, cashew nuts, coffee, coconuts and palm oil and many others.
Further reforms in fisheries: The Royal Government will continue reforms of fisheries, particularly the rational and effective management of fishery lots that have been set for reallocation, in order to expand access to this important resource by the poor. However, most communities do not have adequate capacity to manage this important resource, thereby leading to overexploitation or the surrender of their use rights to private businesses. Thus, our work is to strengthen the management of communal fisheries resources by establishing fisheries communities that support and encourage people in the sustainable management and use of fisheries areas.
Strengthen Forestry management: The Royal Government will continue to prevent and crack down on illegal logging by strengthening mechanisms for the monitoring of forest law enforcement and other regulations to ensure that forest use will serve the long-term interests of the nation and will not worsen the lives of the poor people in the rural areas.
Promote the “One Village One Product” approach: An important key to development is to select two or three specific products which are of highest potential for production by each province. The development of these potentials may be in various ways, including links to financing, transfer of technology, knowledge and know-how, training for the improvement of quality, and market identification. However all these approaches require motivation and the participation of the private sector through strengthening the capacity of SMEs.
Once again, on behalf of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty and on behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I express my warmest greetings and thank all of you, the development partners, for your active participation in the rehabilitation, building and development of forestry and wildlife sector. Your help and assistance has resulted in significant improvements, and I call on all of you to continue your support.
Specifically, I would like to thank the Royal Government of Denmark through the DANIDA for the technical and financial assistance extended to Cambodia for rehabilitating and developing this important area of Kbal Chhay, providing a protected source of clean water for the people in our Sihanoukville.
I am convinced that the joint efforts made by our government officials, all armed forces, authorities at all levels, our people and other stakeholders will create a new environment with high sense of responsibility in protecting our country’s wealth in forests and natural resources.
Today on “Arbor Day”, may I appeal once again to all Cambodian people, all armed forces, and all political parties, who are campaigning for the coming elections, to continue the spirit of patience and mutual understanding and to compete with dignity, legality and morality, to ensure that the elections will be free, fair and transparent without violence and threat or intimidation.
I also appeal to all to put the long term interest of our beloved nation above the short term interest of political parties. Our nation and people badly need peace, political stability, national unification, democracy and development for the enhancement of their livelihood and uplift their lives. Therefore, there is nothing better than the spirit of patience, mutual understanding and behavior in accordance with legality and morality, to preserve an environment of political and economic stability, which is of high interest of our nation. This is as important as sustainable management of forests and natural resources.
In conclusion, I am very delighted with this event, and wish that this Arbor Day be a historical event that will help achieve a fruitful and sustainable outcome, contributing to the protection of our natural resources and the building of our nation.
Finally, I wish all of you, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the five Gems of Buddhist Blessing.