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  • Governing Cambodia's Forests: The International Politics of Policy Reform by Andrew Cock
  • Lee Poh Onn
Governing Cambodia's Forests: The International Politics of Policy Reform, by Andrew Cock. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2016. Pp. 302.

Examining forest management issues from a political economy perspective is useful because political forces often interact with economic drivers to influence how forests are managed and used. The focus on Cambodia is vital, too, as no extensive or systematic academic work has been undertaken on this country before. Given this background, Governing Cambodia's Forests takes an important step in exploring pressing environment and forest conservation issues in the country.

Forest exploitation rarely occurs in a vacuum; there must be an international market that places demand on forest goods; there are also "actors" or stakeholders that feature strongly in the exploitation, consumption, or preservation of forest resources. Importantly, the whole outcome also needs to be placed in a particular setting: a clear set of property rights governing the extraction, conservation and protection of forest resources, with enforcement of such rights by courts and the state. In his book, Andrew Cock develops such a framework that looks at the "dynamics of external-internal interaction", the interaction between the local elites/politicians and international organizations (notably, the World Bank) that subsequently influenced the type of policy reforms, institutional changes, and the outcome that occurred. His findings suggest that deforestation in the country worsened when multilateral and bilateral aid started focusing on policy reforms to manage forests.

In this book, forest management and exploitation is placed in the context of international politics, specifically the influence and pressure exerted by international organizations on the country's rulers. In Cambodia, global bodies have long endeavoured to work with the local authorities to manage forests in a sustainable manner, both economically and environmentally. More often than not, however, these organizations simply parcel out policies that they would like the Cambodian authorities to adopt. Failure to follow these guidelines would result in threats to stop funds or aid money from being disbursed to the country. These insights are particularly interesting because the author has the "insider's" view to forest management issues in the country, given the history of his policy advisor position at the NGO Forum.

The book is divided into seven chapters that highlight different aspects related to the management of Cambodia's forest landscape. Tropical forest management in the context of a global states system is discussed in Chapter 2. Economic analysis has become central towards understanding, examining and resolving the problem of deforestation, and also the prescription of policies that are likely to lead to improved forest management practices. In the following chapter, the focus is brought to the country's ruling class. Cambodia is often viewed as a patrimonial state where the ruler depends on the support from key sections of the political elite to stay in power. In turn, the ruler wins the subjects' loyalty by satisfying their material interests and needs. State power is directed at channelling rents to these political elites, and forest resources in Cambodia have traditionally been an important means to achieve this end. [End Page 277]

Chapter 4 then looks at how international market conditions, combined with growing accessibility to the border areas, made logging a highly lucrative activity in the country. The role of international institutions like the IMF is also examined in detail, with special focus on how the organization attempted to coerce the Cambodian government into adopting policies that promote sustainable forest practices. One example is the "Cambodia Forest Policy Assessment", which was adopted to enable institutional reforms for clearer redelineation of property rights and greater transparency in the allocation of forest concessions. Continuing the narrative, Chapter 5 explains how the ruling elite recognized their ability to turn the reform agenda proposed by the international organizations into their advantage. The author mentions that the leadership was not keen on adopting every single policy recommendation. Only those policies were adopted which assisted the state in centralizing its control over forest resources, such as laws that enhanced the taxing ability of the Department of Forestry. Changes that could potentially limit the discretion of state agencies and the ruling...


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