An activist’s undercover work to shed light the extent of illegal logging in Cambodia’s forests has been recognised by the Goldman Environmental Prize. Leng Ouch gathered evidence to highlight how land concessions (ELCs) were being abused and forcing communities from their homes. His outspoken criticism of the government led to fears for his safety, forcing Mr Ouch into hiding.
In 2014, the government cancelled ELCs that covered 89,000 hectares of forest.
Despite this, Mr Ouch said he felt the plight of the nation’s forests was not improving. “The situation is getting worse year after year,” he told BBC News. “There is no improvement, there is more destruction. There is more deforestation and more demand from overseas. “We have lost millions of hectares of land through the land concessions.”
It is reported that Cambodia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, and just 20-30% of its original forest cover remains. One of the driving forces is the demand from nations like China for high-value hardwoods, such as Siamese rosewood that can fetch US $50,000 (£35,000) for a cubic metre.
Another cause for the high deforestation rate is the introduction of Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) in 2001, which were designed to support economy-boosting large-scale agriculture, such as rubber and sugar plantations. However, the issuing of the ELCs has affected many communities that depended on the land for their livelihoods.
Campaigners say that more than 700,000 people have been driven from their homes as a result of ELCs. Leng Ouch’s work has taken him undercover and placed him in extreme danger as he attempted to gather evidence of the impact of the ELCs on forests and forest people.