Opportunities for Biomass Production in Cambodia

Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia covers an area of 181 035 square kilometers, with a population of over 14 million (July 2008) of which about 85-90 percent lives in the rural areas (Ministry of Rural Development 2006, Central Intelligence Agency 2008). More than 80 % of energy derives from biomass (De Lopez, 2003). Fuel wood is the major source of energy for rural population and tile brick industries. According to De lopez, natural forests are the main source of fuel wood in Cambodia that lead to severely degradation of forest for the past twenty years. Currently, woody biomass also can be obtained from old rubber plantation by harvesting the old rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) (Abe, 2007). In addition, the biomass is not only the produce from woody plants but also the residues from agricultural crops such as rice, sugar cane and maize (ReCambodia, n.d.).

Tree plantations would be highly suitable for supplying biomass fuel for rural mini-grid electrification especially fast growing legumes such as Leucaena spp. and Gliricidia spp., farmers are able to harvest stems and branches one year after planting. There is about 111.3km2 of tree plantations of Acacia spp. And Eucalyptus spp but the purpose of these plantations is generally production of wood chip materials for export (Abe, 2007). Furthermore, there is currently about 2500km2 of grassland with scattered trees area in Cambodia, a substantial proportion of which is abandoned lands and previously cleared forest.Tree plantations for biomass production therefore have great potential for expansion, not only for rural electrification but also for main grid electricity supply (Abe, 2007).

Recently, the government has introduced the Economic Land Concession scheme which allows both domestic and foreign investors to gain access of state land especially wasteland areas for forestry and agro-industrial plantation. As a result, several large scale plantation of Jatropha (Jatropha curcas) are being established for bioenergy production and because Jatropha is a non food and non animal feeding crop, it has the advantage not to compete with food production within the country. In conclusion, Economic Land Concession scheme will provide the opportunities for both oil seed plants and woody tree plantation for biomass production to be established under this scheme. However, the low level of awareness in biomass production from tree plantation is still limited for the policy maker, private sectors and society compare to oil seed plant from Jatropha. The lack of bioenergy technology is also a major obstacle for the development of biomass production in Cambodia.

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