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By Naly Pilorge
Cambodia is in the grips of a prolonged land grabbing crisis, a slow-motion calamity that has seen over 2.1 million hectares of land – roughly the total area of Wales – transferred mostly from subsistence farmers into the hands of industrial agriculture firms.
An estimated 400,000 people have been affected by land disputes since 2003, and government violence against land-grabbing victims is at an all-time high (the most shocking example coming when authorities shot dead a 14-year-old girl during an eviction).
This state-sponsored program of stealing from the poor and giving to the rich is facilitated by Cambodia’s land concession scheme, in which the government leases “private state land” to companies that agree to farm it. And thanks to lack of a functioning and systematic land titling system in Cambodia, the government is helping itself to just about any land it fancies. Occupants rarely receive proper compensation, and many receive no compensation at all.
The resulting selloff of land is transforming Cambodian society: What was once a nation of subsistence farmers could soon be one of landless poor who have no option but to work in garment factories, do seasonal work on other people's farms, or take their chances looking for work across the border in Thailand.
The map at the top of this post illustrates just how rapidly the sell-off has accelerated in recent years. At the beginning of 2009, concessions totalled only 1.1 million hectares – there's now almost twice that number.
A major conference between the Cambodian government and aid partners is approaching on September 26. At the last such conference in 2010, donors pledged US $1.1 billion in assistance – half of Cambodia’s national budget.
This year, the land crisis should be a major topic of discussion at the conference. Donors must take tangible steps to insure that Cambodia addresses the root causes of its land crisis.
Ms. Naly Pilorge is the Director of the Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
This interactive timeline map depicts land concessions granted by the Cambodian government since 1993. Over 2.1 million hectares have been leased to private entities. (Note that this map only plots concessions which can be reliably located and dated. As such, the map is not representative of all land concessions granted in Cambodia)