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Bamboo resources, conservation and utilization in Cambodia - Meng Monyrak

Programme Officer and Trainer, Department of Nature Conservation and Protection, Ministry of Environment, #48, Samdech Preach Sihanouk, Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Introduction

This paper aims to provide a preliminary overview of the status of bamboo resources of Cambodia. Because of the fact that the nation suffered a long period of political crisis, bamboo flora, like the biodiversity generally, has been considered a low priority issue and the future of bamboo flora research remains somewhat uncertain. Recently, the attention has been focused on the value of non-timber forest products (NTFP) to add significantly to the value of the forest. This resource has been recognized for its true potential to local people and considered as an additional natural resource from forests. The Cambodian government has recognized the economics and significance of the natural resource, and the need to integrate conservation and development of the nation and local communities.

Bamboo, which was generally neglected and undervalued as village plants is used as a main livelihood resource by most rural people of Cambodia. The use of this NTFP, regardless of its value to local people or the national economy, has been classified by foresters as “minor forest product”. This term in Cambodia often refers only to those products for which there is no industrial market. For rural people, especially ethnic groups in North Cambodia, bamboo forms an integral part of the household economy and daily consumption. Bamboo as a NTFP is used in many ways. It provides food, medicines, household equipment, building materials, handicrafts and other product equipment as well as the products for cash sale.

Information on bamboo resources, utilization and management in Cambodia is scanty although it has been used traditionally for ages. There is a need to establish a network of bamboo research and management in the country with cooperation with the Bamboo Information Centre (China, India) or with other international institutes dealing with bamboos.

Area and habitat

Background: Situated in the Indochinese peninsula of Southeast Asia, between 10°24' and 14°41' N and 102°21' and 107°22'E, Cambodia's area comprises 181 635 km2. Falling into the Indo-Malayan realm along with Thailand in the North and West, Laos in the North, Vietnam in the East, and the Gulf of Thailand in the Southeast, Cambodia's biodiversity is very important particularly of lowland forests. However, they have been drastically modified in many places during the political conflict of over two decades. Most studies of diversity of Cambodia were carried out during the period when it was a French colony. Partial and limited studies on forest resources, including bamboo were conducted.

Status of forests: Forests are important to the economy, culture and environment of Cambodia. Prior to the civil war, in the early sixties, it was reported that forests covered over 13 million ha (or 73%) of the total land area of the country (Table 1). However, the figure has been drastically lowered over the last 30 years, especially during the last two decades. Owing to the consequence of the human activities: civil war, agricultural expansion and uncontrolled wood harvesting to meet increased demand of the nation, from 1973 to 1993, 1.4 million ha of forested area was cut down and much of the remaining area has been negatively affected. Most authorities estimate that Cambodia's forest cover is 30-35% of the total land area, although the Ministry of Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries of Cambodia recorded that 40% of the area was forested in 1995. According, to interpretation of the Forestry department from aerial photographs in 1960s, the area of bamboo grove has been estimated about 387 400 ha (or 2.95%) of Cambodia's forested areas.

Table 1. Forests (including bamboo) in provinces of Cambodia (1000 hectare) in 1960s

Province

Forest Vegetation Types

Mixed Deciduous

Evergreen

Lowland evergreen

Mixed evergreen-deciduous

Coniferous

Mangrove

Flooded areas

Bamboo

Battambang

614.0

287.1

0.8

193.3

0

0

0

81.0

Kampot

126.5

215.2

52.9

17.0

0

20.8

-

-

Kandal

5.7

0.1

-

0.7

-

-

54.5

-

Kokh Kong

24.0

901.4

149.1

12.8

10.9

74.4

-

23.1

Kam Pong Cham

61.2

53.5

-

172.5

-

-

53.2

35.0

Kam Pong Chhang

234.4

18.4

-

8.5

0.3

-

60.0

-

Kam Pong Speor

403.1

84.5

15.2

12.2

5.5

-

-

-

Kam Pong Tom

230.6

593.2

-

111.9

0.5

0.3

90.0

19.4

Kra Tea

508.1

254.9

9.3

333.9

-

-

9.1

10.7

Mondulkiri

913.6

141.9

0.4

192.0

-

-

-

19.1

Preah Vihear

864.7

264.0

1.1

347.0

-

-

-

115.9

Prey Veng

3.5

0.6

-

8.7

-

-

27.4

1.0

Por Sath

295.9

382.9

49.5

69.0

0.6

0.3

75.1

5.6

Rattanakiri

378.9

283.0

4.5

382.0

-

-

-

10.0

Siam Reap

309.9

152.0

-

182.4

-

-

87.3

57.9

Steng Treng

297.1

317.7

2.4

334.3

-

-

-

6.0

Svay Rieng

5.4

4.0

-

21.3

-

-

2.4

0.2

Takeo

19.5

1.2

0.1

1.5

-

-

2.8

-

Total

5296.7

3955.3

288.7

2504.0

17.8

95.8

681.4

387.4

Percentage

40.04

29.90

2.18

18.93

0.13

0.72

5.15

2.95


Forest vegetation: Five main vegetation types were recognized by Wharton. These are humid forest and sub-humid forest in hill or mountainous areas and savanna forest, open savanna forest and allied grasslands and hydrophilic communities (Fig. 1). The most predominant forest vegetation in Cambodia includes the members of families Dipterocarpaceae, Leguminosae, Lythraceae and Fagaceae. In some places Pinaceae or Podocarpaceae predominate and certain areas have numerous endemic species (Dyphon 1970).

Fig. 1. Distribution of major vegetation types. A: Humid forest, B: Subhumid forest, C: Savannah forest, D: Hydrophylic communities, and E: Open Savannah and grasslands (after Wharton, 1968).

Climate: Cambodia's climate is tropical monsoon with a rainy season extending from Southwest. The rainfall is varied and influenced by topography, with more than 3000 mm in the Western coastal region, between 1800 and 3000 mm East of the Mekong River and between 1200 mm and 1500 mm in the central plain. There are six rainy months from May to November and dry season is pronounced for the rest of the year. The mean monthly temperature ranges from 25°C to 34°C in January to 34°C in April.

Bamboo forests: Bamboo forests are confined to some restricted regions in the country. In the North, bamboos grow more than in other parts of the country in evergreen, mixed deciduous-evergreen and deciduous forests. In other parts, they are also found around the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) in the centre of the country. Bamboos grow naturally either as clumps or running scattered as undergrowth in all forest types and along stream bank. The clump type is commonly found in different forest types. Different species of bamboos are found in different forest types. Soil structure and geographic areas with different distribution patterns and population structure influence certain species. Bambusa bambos and other Bambusa species have a relatively wider range of distribution than others. Some species are also found in the deciduous, dry dipterocarp and open forests, including tall grass-like bamboos, Arundinaria ciliata, A. pusilla and Bambusa blumeana. They usually grow beneath evergreen and lowland evergreen, mixed deciduous-evergreen and secondary or logged forests.

Species distribution

Forest: Owing to the tropical climate, bamboo grows in most parts of the country. Out-of-date data, lacking quality and quantity, research constraints and the rapid pace of change of the country's administration make it difficult to reach a definitive estimate of the number of species. Cambodia's forests have not been comprehensively surveyed for bamboos. In addition, bamboos of Cambodia have been excluded from the forest flora because they are considered as village plants, or are found growing in logged or secondary forests. The only reference on Cambodian bamboos is by Camus and Camus (1923) in the Flore Generale de L'indochine. It includes 14 genera and 72 species for Indo-China. The taxonomy of bamboo species in Cambodia is still in its preliminary stage of investigation. Referring to existing data of Cambodia's bamboo flora available, it is estimated that there are at least 10 species of 4 genera (Bambusa, Arundinaria, Dendrocalamus and Oxytenanthera), of which the number of species under Bambusa predominate. Oxytenanthera and Arundinaria spp. are relatively abundant than others. However bamboo species in Cambodia given in this paper are identified based on their consumption and by information obtained from local communities. It is assumed that bamboos are not only diverse as in neighbouring countries, but also include some native, endemic and threatened or endangered species.

Important commercial species: Bamboo species having commercially important value are Bambusa bambos (Rusey Khley), B. burmanica (Rusey Srok Chin), B. flexuosa (Rusey Srok), B. vulgaris (Rusey Koa) and Oxytenanthera densa (Rusey Ping Pong). These species are commonly used for paper making, housing, general construction, agricultural equipment and handicrafts. Other species, namely Arundinaria ciliata, A. A pusilla. (Rusey Prech), Bambusa blumeana (Rusey Rlek), and Dendrocalamus sp. are used daily as food, for making musical instruments, kitchen utensils, fences, matting slat traps and floats. Some ethnic groups in northeast of Cambodia are permanently settled in bamboo forests as they are culturally and materially reliant on these resources. If the bamboos no longer exist in their village they move the village to another area where the bamboo grows.

Conservation

National Park and protected areas: Cambodia has a long history of protected areas. Prior to 1957, about one third of Cambodia's forested areas were inventoried and classified into 173 forest reserves (3.9 million ha) and 6 wildlife sanctuaries (13 million ha). In 1925, the first national park in Southeast Asia covering 10 800 ha of forested area around the well-renowned Temple of Angkor was designed and established. In 1993, the Cambodian government continued to recognize the value and significance of protected areas. A new system of protected areas was established by the Royal Decree “Creation and Designation of Protected Areas” signed by King Samdech Preah Sihanouk on 1 November 1993. The national protected area system includes 23 areas, covering 3568 100 ha (19.6% land area of the country) and is designated for biodiversity protection. The protected area system is divided into 4 categories: National Park, Wildlife Santuary, Protected Landscapes and Multiple Use Areas and has made Cambodia one of the countries with the highest proportion of land under protection. The protected areas include different ecosystems. But, bamboo areas are not included under protected area categories or under development or management areas.

Ex situ conservation: Cambodia does not have any botanical garden (or herbarium) although there has been some field work and research on biodiversity, ecology and distribution. This is because Cambodia is one of Asia's poorest countries in terms of research staff including botanists, taxonomists, ecologists and documentationalists and had suffered much by the continuous civil unrest - consequently biological diversity conservation and proper management plans have received very little or no attention.

Plantations: Since commercially valuable bamboo resources are threatened by over-exploitation, their availability in the natural forest is being reduced. It will be useful to initiate and promote the local communities and rural people to examine the possibility of enhancing bamboo production and availability. Prudent use of the resources is also important. Although Celebration of Plantation Day, Environment Day and other events relating to the protection of forest are organized annually by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and involving the public to plant trees, bamboo species have not yet been selected so far for planting.

Traditionally, bamboos are planted on a small scale around local communities and rural residences to make fences, demarcate boundaries and to provide shade for the village garden and daily use. A few bamboo species, Bambusa burmanica, B. flexuosa and Oxytenanthera densa are often found in the village gardens.

Extraction and sustainable utilization

Although a timber cutting and export ban is supposedly in force, the Cambodian government continues to forward logging concessions and has uncertain policy on NTFP. Bamboos are harvested and freely transported throughout the country, but at present the yearly rate of extraction of bamboo is not available. It is reported that most of this NTFP is transported to cities and from northeast Cambodia it is exported to Vietnam. Although figures on the current bamboo timber output are unavailable, the figures below shows rate of extraction of the main NTFP between 1955 and 1967 (Table 2).

Table 2. Rate of NTFP extraction of some years prior to the civil unrest.

NTFP

UNIT

1955

1960

1967

Bamboo

m3

41 400

40 800

64 800

Fuelwood

m3

297 300

258 500

341 100

Charcoal

ton

18 400

24 000

22 500

Rattan

ton

707

456

286.3

Resins

ton

898

860

1068.7


Research in progress

Cultivation and utilization: In most rural communities of Cambodia, especially in the northeast, bamboos provide a wide range of materials and daily income. Bamboo has been used traditionally for hundreds of years as sources of food, house construction, household equipment, utensils and handicrafts. Despite its importance, there is no research on bamboo in Cambodia. The bamboo timber utilization ratio until now has been low, around 10%. Bamboo shoots are important as daily food, especially for the local communities who freely collect shoots.

Research and development needs

Bamboo has been given a low priority by Cambodian people and the government. Sustainable utilization, protection and management are poor. The existing forest law and national protected areas of Cambodia clearly ignore and isolate people's participation from any strategy, and action plan of bamboo protection and management. It is assumed that the entire natural resources including bamboo forests outside the protected areas are under the management of the Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Though forests are considered as a main source of income for the Cambodian government and the dependent local communities, the budget allocations for research on bamboo is almost nil. Both the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries suffer from lack of sufficient and trained staff and lack of research activities and funds.

Official records are very few on bamboo products, commercial utilization, consumption, and export. The limited information available is written in French. The observations recorded by individual researchers and scientists are diverse in nature. This vacuum in knowledge poses a major constraint on undertaking viable management and conservation measures.

The following actions should be taken immediately to address the problems of bamboo in Cambodia.

- Extensive and intensive inventory work on bamboo flora through out the country is urgently required, to solve various taxonomic problems. Bamboo flora should be studied from the viewpoint of ecology, diversity, distribution, propagation and reproduction. At the same time capacity building and trained staff of concerned institutions need to be upgraded and strengthened in terms of field work, research and documentation of the bamboo flora to follow up the conservation programme.

- Collaborative research and development of inter-institutional linkages with regional entities, namely INBAR, BIC China, BIC Malaysia and BIC India should be initiated.

- Steps should be taken to develop an effective Management Information System on Bamboo resources.

References

Camus, E.G. and Camus A. 1923. Graminees in, Lecomte, Flore Generale de l'Indo-Chine (Vol 7). Paris.

Dyphon, P. 1970. Vegetation du Sud-Ouest de Cambodge. Paris.


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