Cambodia is one of the few places on Earth blessed with abundant natural riches: home to the world‘s largest freshwater fish and extensive tiger habitat, the forests and rivers, grasslands and wetlands pulse with life, and with new species being recorded here every other day.1 Cambodia has been a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity since 1995, and as per Article 26 of the Convention, this Fifth National Report is to provide updates on measures taken for the implementation of the Convention and the effectiveness of these measures in Cambodia.
Research on Cambodia‘s biodiversity has been limited but ongoing, and continues to identify a plethora of new species country records and occasionally entirely new species. Cambodia designated 23 protected areas in 1993 covering about 3,273,300 ha equal to 18% of the country by Cambodia‘s PA percentage under the authority of the Ministry of Environment. In addition, the Royal Government of Cambodia also made a series of designation of 10 additional Protected Forest areas administered by the Forestry Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries covering 1.63 million hectares2 and 58 fish sanctuaries supported by its Fisheries Administration.
The World Bank Country Overview on Cambodia3 describes the strength of the economy and how ―economic growth broadened over the past few years, thanks to sustained growth in the agricultural sector, driven by increases in rice prices in global markets.‖ In regards to forest management and timber production, there have been significant efforts to reduce deforestation and the Government has targets for increased forest cover. The consolidation of the results of forest assessments since 2002, when revisions of land-use classification were introduced, reveal that the country‘s forest cover declined from 61.15% in 2002 to 57.07% in 2010. The lack of protected areas management plans with formal conservation core zones has allowed for Economic Land Concessions to be placed within protected areas, sometimes with significant biodiversity impacts.
The status of Cambodia as a developing country with a large population aspiring to reduce poverty combined with exceptional biodiversity providing the basis of the economy, has seen many challenges in balancing conservation and development. Cambodia has significant legislations related to biodiversity but there is also significant overlap across legislation and as such confusion for implementation and difficulties for enforcement. The most critical direct threat and challenge for biodiversity in Cambodia is habitat loss. The Forestry Administration has documented the specific forest cover losses as a guide, but all habitats in Cambodia are currently being negatively impacted.
Agriculture is intrinsically linked to ecosystem services in Cambodia and as agricultural development and food security strategies are country priorities, the reduction of positive ecosystem services may have significant socio-economic and cultural impacts. The basis of the food system in Cambodia is rice and fish and both could be negatively impacted by climate change and changes in hydrology such as dams on the upper Mekong. Effective biodiversity management requires a shift from the ‗business as usual‘ approach with low participation and commitment leading to: Decreasing Natural/Biodiversity Resources; and Ineffective planning and management of Natural/Biodiversity Resources.
When the previous National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan was developed in 2002 Cambodia had a much shorter-term focus of rebuilding after years of internal conflict. Now Cambodia has some stability and a growing economy with reduced poverty and an increased understanding of biodiversity. The concept of ecosystem services and other biodiversity values is not fully understood but people are becoming more aware of the consequences of not managing the environment.
The Government‘s direction is set by the Rectangular Strategy, which states the need to maximize agricultural production and ensure sustainable use and management of natural resources and maintaining biodiversity, which also means biodiversity is a consideration in many national plans, programmes and policies. This is reflected in positive moves toward meeting agreed targets including: Aichi, Millennium Development Goals, and Forestry Program Indicators. This Fifth National Report, helps to summarize these positive actions and comes at a time of reflection as the Royal Government of Cambodia is reviewing the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.