The Aoral Wildlife Sanctuary in Kampong Speu province is just a three-hour drive from Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. But the scenery here couldn't be more different than in the sprawling metropolis — even a military outpost in the reserve is peaceful and picturesque. A traditional stilt house has hammocks, chickens and ice-cold beer. Outside, a few soldiers are playing pétanque as a black pig snuffles the earth.
But behind this idyllic scene in the Cardamom Mountains, a billion-dollar black market is thriving.
Loggers are illegally felling rare and valuable trees to sell in China and Europe, making Cambodia's deforestation rate among the world's worst. And the army itself has been implicated in the illegal trade, which has also been linked to murder.
Read more: The difficult task of tracking deadly wood
According to nongovernmental organization Open Development Cambodia, the country is losing its forest at a rate of 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) per year, with 7 percent vanishing over the last 12 years. A rich diversity of wildlife — from tigers to douc monkeys — is endangered as a result.
The rare duoc monkey is among the species under threat as Cambodia's forests get felled for profit
Earlier this year, three activists tracking illegal loggers were shot dead. Six members of the state security forces were arrested for the crime. They are suspected of trying to cover up their involvement in the illegal timber trade.
Read more: The financial system killing environmental activists
In 2012, the well-known environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot under similar circumstances, and numerous other forest rangers have been killed since, without any independent investigations being launched.
Poachers roam the forest
Driving down bumpy forest tracks with two armed escorts for safety, it's clear logging is happening — despite a ban on felling protected tree species. Large areas of forest have been replaced by rubber plantations, and tractors continue to drag away piles of timber, unhindered by forest rangers.
Aun Pheap reportedly extensively on illegal logging for Cambodia Daily, a newspaper the government recently shut down. He says poachers are after rosewood, although it's becoming ever-scarcer.
"They have to go deeper and deeper in the in the jungle to find it," Pheap told DW. "In Vietnam it no longer exists. And in Cambodia, the last rosewood will be cut probably in 2026."
Rosewood is a popular choice for luxury furnishings
Since 2002, it has been illegal to fell the richly hued timber. But its striking color, contrasting grain and waterproof qualities make it highly desirable for furniture and floors. Most of Cambodia's poached rosewood is smuggled across the border to Vietnam and ultimately sold in China.
Following the sound of chainsaws, we find three loggers working deep in the forest. One is a farmer who says he earns barely $500 (€410) each year from his rice paddies. "I know this is illegal, but what can I do?" he says. "I have a large family and we are poor."
He describes how the trio used a microloan to buy a basic tractor, which they use to transport the poached wood. "We work three days for one transport. That brings in $50 dollars. Not much, but it helps."
Rather than policing this illegal activity, poorly paid forest rangers are themselves profiting from it. At a checkpoint on the border of the nature reserve, there is a queue of tractors. The rangers take 10,000 riel — about $2.70 — to let each pass, and the loggers are waved through amicably.
Farmers supplmenting their income by poaching rosewood take a break from logging
Regularizing illegal timber
And the corruption goes far beyond rangers topping up their wages.
"Only a few companies have a license to cut wood legally," environmental activist Heng Meng told DW. These companies are allowed to clear certain areas for agriculture — not timber. But activists say that not only are they extending their logging beyond licensed areas, they are also providing cover for the wider black market.
"These companies are owned by people in the army, often in senior positions," Meng says. "The local people cut down trees illegally and sell the wood to the army. The company can then give this wood a legal label."
At the Daun Roath border post in Tbong Khmum province, a small barrier marks the spot where Cambodia ends and Vietnam begins. It's quiet, with just a few chickens making the crossing. A bare-chested border guard sits on a camp bed playing with his smartphone.
Many trucks and tractors are transporting illegally cut wood in Cambodia's protected nature reserves
"I formally deny that any wood is being smuggled over the border here," he growls, without looking up. "I have never seen anything here. The government shut the smuggling down long ago."
Customers at a food stall on border aren't very communicative either.
"I know nothing, I'm always drunk," a man in his 50s says. But he follows us when we move on. Talking could cost him his job, he says. "I see it happen every night. With vans and luxury cars. A lot of officials. Nobody dares stop those vehicles."
At an army base near Snuol, close to the border, we find stacks of rosewood worth thousands of dollars. A man in military fatigues confirms the logs belong to the army, but says they are destined to prop up plants on a pepper farm.
A pile of distinctive red timber, close to the border with Vietnam
Forest tracks lead to Europe
On highway 7, a main artery from Cambodia into Vietnam, the black market appears to be flourishing, with wood transported on vans, trucks and even motorbikes.
A man in his early 30s is carrying a three-meter tree trunk on the luggage rack of his motorbike. He says he bought the wood from a company licensed for forest clearance, and plans to sell it on to a Cambodian contact in Vietnam for 500,000 riel — around $134. The border guards take 5,000 riel, or "sometimes I give them a kilogram of meat," he says.
"I have a wife and three young daughters," the man explains. "I don't want to do this forever, but now I have no choice. The border police know that."
Ultimately, the log he's smuggling across to Vietnam could end up with a far higher price tag, as luxury furniture in an upscale European store.
A smuggler approaches the Vietnamese border with as much timber as he can carry
Companies importing wood into the European Union have to prove it's legal. But Rolf Schipper of Dutch nongovernmental organization Milieudefensie (Environmental Defense) says illegally felled timber often slips through.
"The European market is inundated with products that contribute to deforestation and land-grabbing," Schipper told DW.
And a new trade agreement currently being negotiated between Vietnam and the European Union could exacerbate the situation, deregulating the movement of goods between the two countries and allowing more illegally logged Cambodian rosewood onto the European market.
"Checks on wood trade should be stipulated in the agreement," Bart Staes, a member of the European Parliament for the Belgian Green Party, told DW.
"We can't allow smuggled wood being imported into the European Union thanks to the simplified procedures of the free trade agreement. It would legitimize and facilitate illegal trade."
Peru: fighting a corrupt business
The oil palm bears around 6000 fruits. As the demand for palm oil increases, so has its economic importance.
Peru: fighting a corrupt business
Palm oil plantation in Ucayali, Peru
Rainforest is being increasingly cleared to make way for huge palm oil plantations.
Peru: fighting a corrupt business
At the border
The indigenous “Santa Clara de Uchunya” community in Ucayali, Peru. Around 200 people live in the main village.
Peru: fighting a corrupt business
Community leader, Carlos Hoyos, fears for the future of the villagers. The palm oil plantations have spread right to village's periphery. Indigenous community representatives fighting for the land have their lives threatened.
Peru: fighting a corrupt business
Indigenous villagers are not equipped to grapple with palm oil multinationals. With threats and misinformation, they are being forced to leave and sell their land for little money. Shootings of indigenous people have been traced back to the conflict over land.
Author: Katja Döhne
Cause-Effect Essay: Deforestation
- Length: 1146 words (3.3 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
People have been deforesting the Earth for thousands of years, primarily to clear land for crops or livestock. Although tropical forests are largely confined to developing countries, they aren’t just meeting local or national needs; economic globalization means that the needs and wants of the global population are bearing down on them as well. Direct causes of deforestation are agricultural expansion, wood extraction (e.g., logging or wood harvest for domestic fuel or charcoal), and infrastructure expansion such as road building and urbanization. Rarely is there a single direct cause for deforestation. Most often, multiple processes work simultaneously or sequentially to cause deforestation.
The single biggest direct cause of tropical deforestation is conversion to cropland and pasture, mostly for subsistence, which is growing crops or raising livestock to meet daily needs. The conversion to agricultural land usually results from multiple direct factors. For example, countries build roads into remote areas to improve overland transportation of goods. The road development itself causes a limited amount of deforestation. But roads also provide entry to previously inaccessible—and often unclaimed—land. Logging, both legal and illegal, often follows road expansion (and in some cases is the reason for the road expansion). When loggers have harvested an area’s valuable timber, they move on. The roads and the logged areas become a magnet for settlers—farmers and ranchers who slash and burn the remaining forest for cropland or cattle pasture, completing the deforestation chain that began with road building. In other cases, forests that have been degraded by logging become fire-prone and are eventually deforested by repeated accidental fires from adjacent farms or pastures.
Although subsistence activities have dominated agriculture-driven deforestation in the tropics to date, large-scale commercial activities are playing an increasingly significant role. In the Amazon, industrial-scale cattle ranching and soybean production for world markets are increasingly important causes of deforestation, and in Indonesia, the conversion of tropical forest to commercial palm tree plantations to produce bio-fuels for export is a major cause of deforestation on Borneo and Sumatra.
Although poverty is often cited as the underlying cause of tropical deforestation, analyses of multiple scientific studies indicate that that explanation is an oversimplification. Poverty does drive people to migrate to forest frontiers, where they engage in slash and burn forest clearing for subsistence. But rarely does one factor alone bear the sole responsibility for tropical deforestation.
State policies to encourage economic development, such as road and railway expansion projects, have caused significant, unintentional deforestation in the Amazon and Central America.
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Deforestation Significant Role Economic Globalization Multiple Livestock Roads Timber Magnet Bearing Developing Countries
Agricultural subsidies and tax breaks, as well as timber concessions, have encouraged forest clearing as well. Global economic factors such as a country’s foreign debt, expanding global markets for rainforest timber and pulpwood, or low domestic costs of land, labor, and fuel can encourage deforestation over more sustainable land use.
Access to technology may either enhance or diminish deforestation. The availability of technologies that allow “industrial-scale” agriculture can spur rapid forest clearing, while inefficient technology in the logging industry increases collateral damage in surrounding forests, making subsequent deforestation more likely. Underlying factors are rarely isolated; instead, multiple global and local factors exert synergistic influences on tropical deforestation in different geographic locations.
The local level is where deforestation has the most immediate effect. With forest loss, the local community loses the system that performed valuable but often underappreciated services like ensuring the regular flow of clean water and protecting the community from flood and drought. The forest acts as a sort of sponge, soaking up rainfall brought by tropical storms while anchoring soils and releasing water at regular intervals. This regulating feature of tropical rainforests can help moderate destructive flood and drought cycles that can occur when forests are cleared.
When forest cover is lost, runoff rapidly flows into streams, elevating river levels and subjecting downstream villages, cities, and agricultural fields to flooding, especially during the rainy season. During the dry season, such areas downstream of deforestation can be prone to months-long droughts which interrupt river navigation, wreak havoc on crops, and disrupt industrial operations.
Situated on steep slopes, montane and watershed forests are especially important in ensuring water flow and inhibiting erosion, yet during the 1980s, montane formations suffered the highest deforestation rate of tropical forests.
Additionally, the forest adds to local humidity through transpiration (the process by which plants release water through their leaves), and thus adds to local rainfall. For example, 50-80 percent of the moisture in the central and western Amazon remains in the ecosystem water cycle. In the water cycle, moisture is transpired and evaporated into the atmosphere, forming rain clouds before being precipitated as rain back onto the forest. When the forests are cut down, less moisture is evapotranspired into the atmosphere resulting in the formation of fewer rain clouds. Subsequently there is a decline in rainfall, subjecting the area to drought. If rains stop falling, within a few years the area can become arid with the strong tropical sun baking down on the scrub-land. Today Madagascar is largely a red, treeless desert from generations of severe deforestation. River flows decline and smaller amounts of quality water reach cities and agricultural lands. The declining rainfall in interior West African countries has in part been attributed to excessive clearing of the coastal rainforests. Similarly, new research in Australia suggests that if it were not for human influences—specifically widespread agricultural fires—the dry outback might be a wetter, more hospitable place than it is today. The effect of vegetation change from forests that favor rainfall to grassland and bush can impact precipitation patterns. Colombia, once second in the world with freshwater reserves, has fallen to 24th due to its extensive deforestation over the past 30 years. Excessive deforestation around the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, combined with the dry conditions created by el Niño, triggered strict water rationing in 1998, and for the first time the city had to import water.
There is serious concern that widespread deforestation could lead to a significant decline in rainfall and trigger a positive-feedback process of increasing dessication for neighboring forest cover; reducing its moisture stocks and its vegetation would then further the dessication effect for the region. Eventually the effect could extend outside the region, affecting important agricultural zones and other watersheds. At the 1998 global climate treaty conference in Buenos Aires, Britain, citing a disturbing study at the Institute of Ecology in Edinburgh, suggested the Amazon rainforest could be lost in 50 years due to shifts in rainfall patterns induced by global warming and land conversion.
The newly dessicated forest becomes prone to devastating fires. Such fires materialized in 2007 and 2008 in conjunction with the dry conditions created by el Niño. Millions of acres burned as fires swept through Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Central America, Florida, and other places. The Woods Hole Research Center warned that more than 400,000 square kilometers of Brazilian Amazonia were highly vulnerable to fire in 2010.