Cambodia Burning


“Cambodia has one of the fastest rates of forest loss in the world. In broad swaths of the country, densely forested landscapes—even those in protected areas—have been clear-cut over the past decade.” – NASA Earth Observatory

Deforestation has been accelerating across Cambodia in the early 21st Century and it is estimated that there is only three percent of primary forest left throughout the country.

In 2018, fires burnt in record numbers throughout the forests of north and central Cambodia. At their peak during the dry season between January and March, it is estimated up to 1,800 fires were burning in the country, more than in any other country throughout South East Asia at that time.

The main drivers behind deforestation in Cambodia are conversions of forest lands for agricultural use and targeted logging of valuable species, such as Rosewood, for the Chinese furniture market.

Rubber plantations are the most ubiquitous and are spread throughout the country. According to the Khymer Times, “the Southeast Asian nation made a gross revenue of roughly 377 million U.S. dollars from exports of the commodity last year [2019].” Exports are mainly to countries such as China, Singapore, and Malaysia. Large swathes of Cambodia’s natural forests have been cleared to make way for plantations that generate large revenues for the government.

The Cambodian government also continues to grant concessions to domestic and international companies that allow them to legally clear the country’s forests for agricultural purposes, or to target the country’s trees for harvesting timber.

Decades of forest clearance have decimated the country’s biodiversity. Iconic animals such as tigers and elephants have long since been eradicated from most of the country’s forests.

National-level protection is weak and it now seems only small independent groups of conservationists are the last line of defense trying to protect what is left of Cambodia’s once great forests.

Sean Gallagher travelled to Cambodia in early 2020 to document the effects of deforestation and forest fires on the people and landscapes of the country.

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