World Rainforest Movement

Cambodia: Mekong Regional Conference on Tree Plantations

“During our time together, we heard directly from local community representatives from twelve provinces in Cambodia and also from other countries in the region about how their lives, livelihoods and environments are affected by large plantations in their respective areas.”

The above is part of the final declaration –the “Statement of Unity”- resulting from the Mekong Regional Conference on Tree Plantations held in Kratie, Cambodia on November 21-22, 2006. The meeting, organized jointly by the NGO Forum on Cambodia, Oxfam Great Britain (Cambodia), Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA) and World Rainforest Movement, brought together people from the five countries of the Mekong region: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, Vietnam and China, as well as representatives from other countries. The meeting enabled participants to share experiences and lessons learned on the issue of industrial tree plantations and their impacts on local peoples’ livelihoods. Additionally, they also shared ideas and suggestions to resolve the problems arising from tree plantations.

The reason for organizing this meeting stems from the growing concern over government plans for the expansion of monoculture tree plantations in the Mekong region, including eucalyptus, pines, oil palm and rubber trees.

Sharing experiences, participants learned about the importance of forests, lands and other natural resources for the livelihoods and cultures of communities who depend on them for food, medicinal plants, income and spiritual security. They coincided that “plantations are not forests” and that “when forests are replaced by plantations, the livelihoods of numerous communities who live in and around these forests and protect and nurture them are lost.” As a result, “plantations impoverish communities and their environments.”

Contrary to government claims that plantations contribute to national economic development and poverty alleviation, the conference participants stressed that “plantations have increased poverty by displacing entire communities, destroying crucial livelihood resources and preventing the access of communities to natural resources.”

Even worse, the shared experience showed that “in many cases, plantations have come into communities with a certain level of violence; in some cases the violence has been open and obvious as in killings and imprisonments; in other cases, communities are subjected to intimidation and threats in order to frighten people so that they do not take action.” But even without open intimidation, participants stressed that “the very act of taking land away from villagers is an act of violence.”

Within the context of current government plans for the promotion of large scale tree plantations, conference participants agreed that experience showed that “in all cases the only way to create change has been through peoples’ struggles”, emphasising that “struggle does not mean violence; it means the different ways that local people adopt to secure and defend their rights.” They also stressed that “using the law is very important, but laws alone do not guarantee that peoples’ rights are protected” and that “the most effective strategies for peoples’ struggles come from the affected communities themselves, not from NGOs and other outside groups,” adding that “by working together with other communities and finding common positions, people can strengthen their cause.”

The most important result of the meeting was the shared commitment to continue working together against the expansion of monoculture tree plantations and a strengthened resolve for moving forward in the region’s struggles. Participants recognised “the importance and value of regional exchanges such as this” and supported “the creation of further exchanges between people’s organisations in the region to continue our learning and develop our strategies,” committing themselves to share the conference’s “findings and principles with all our movements, networks and governments.”

See the full text of the “Statement of Unity” at