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Ethnic Tompuon villagers sit in a section of forest in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district during an ongoing land dispute with an economic land concession. Licadho
Ethnic Tompuon villagers sit in a section of forest in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district during an ongoing land dispute with an economic land concession. Licadho

ELCs bring almost no benefits to local communities: study

A study looking at economic land concessions (ELCs) in Ratanakkiri province has found that, contrary to the oft-repeated government narrative, they have brought almost no benefits to local communities.

Speaking at a launch event for the study yesterday, one of the researchers behind it, Dr Neth Baromey, said that even when ELCs did create jobs, they were less than adequate.

“Sixty percent [of respondents] said that while ELCs bring employment, the income is not enough to support their families,” he said. “Most jobs from ELCs are labour intensive, time bound, low paid, dangerous and contrary to the traditional mindset of indigenous peoples, who love freedom.”

The study also found that 35.5 to 36 percent of households had fallen into debt, something Tep Boonny – executive director of Save Cambodia’s Wildlife (SWC), which funded the research – tied to slow progress in issuing communal land titles.

Researcher Dr Ngin Chanrith said that he and his colleagues were concerned that the months- and sometimes years-long process of issuing communal land titles had pushed many towards applying for private land titles. SWC’s Boonny said that private land titles, in turn, provide indigenous people with collateral to apply for microfinance loans many are then unable to repay.

But while the study painted a dark picture of the impact of ELCs, Chou Sopheak, the Environment Ministry’s director of protected areas east of the Mekong River, said at yesterday’s event that he believed in the long run they would be beneficial.

“I’m not an economist, but I think apart from [land rent] revenue, it’s the products they produce” that will benefit Cambodia, Sopheak said. “In the future, so long as they produce local products and export them, we can impose tax on that.”

Sopheak also said that the transfer earlier this year of responsibility for ELCs from the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Agriculture meant his ministry lacked the jurisdiction to monitor concession holders’ corporate social responsibility programs.

However, he promised the Environment Ministry would aggressively monitor concessionaires’ implementation of their environmental impact assessments, which take local communities’ concerns into account.

Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry held a workshop in Phnom Penh yesterday to consult civil society on the latest draft of the Environmental Code.

Ministry representatives declined to comment on the meeting, but Tek Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum, said 50 percent of his organisation’s recommendations – including additional clauses on human rights and corporate social responsibility – had been taken on board.

A previous version of this article misstated the percentage of households that had fallen into debt. It is 35.5 to 36 percent, not 30 percent.
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