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A team of farmers prepare to plant rice seedlings in a Kampot province paddy mid last year.
A team of farmers prepare to plant rice seedlings in a Kampot province paddy mid last year. Pha Lina

Smallholder farmers to face land shortage, study finds

Smallholder farmers have a crucial role to play in tempering the growing pains of Cambodia’s transition to an industrialised economy, but unless something is done, they will face a land shortage in the coming years, according to the authors of a new report.

They will need land!, a report commissioned by the NGO Mekong Region Land Governance, predicts that by 2030, the amount of land required to sustain Cambodia’s smallholder farmer population will have increased by anywhere from 10 to 64 per cent of 2015 levels, or 320,600 to 1,962,400 hectares. The lead author of the report, Jean-Christophe Diepart, yesterday stressed smallholders’ importance in Cambodia.

“Cambodia is in transition, but this transition is unbalanced, and smallholders manage to smooth this transition. This is why they have a very important role to play for the next 20 [to] 30 years,” Diepart said, adding that smallholders “have a history of being productive and efficient”.

The report notes that while Cambodians are gravitating to urban centres as the country industrialises, with the population forecasted to grow considerably in the coming decades, the rural labour force is still expected to swell by some 3 million people in need of gainful employment, and that will require land for them to work on.

Dr Laurie Parsons, an academic specialising in internal Cambodian migration, said the majority of Cambodian migration is temporary.

“In a study we did a few years ago, 80 per cent of these migrants go back [to their hometowns] to harvest the rice, so they’re still farmers for part of the year, and it’s a big part of their income,” Parsons said. “They don’t feel like they’re urban people most of the time. They’re only there for a short time and most plan to go back, and most do after four or five years.”

The report welcomed the government’s recent assurances that it would turn over 1 million hectares of land from cancelled economic land concessions to smallholders, but called for the process to be sped up as “re-appropriation of land is already being undertaken by corporate and individual actors”.

Yang Saing Koma, founder of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, said smallholders have and will continue to play an important role, but noted that the government had enacted few policies to support them.

“They still play a very important role in terms of national food security, because they provide rice for the whole country. Secondly, they provide employment,” Koma said. “They also play a very important role in terms of culture and environment preservation.”

“There are a lot of smallholders who already have land,” he continued. “They have to be supported to increase land and labour productivity. Secondly, the farmers who do not have land, who need land to start agriculture, for those who really want to start agriculture, they should be allocated land.”

Spokespeople for the ministries of agriculture and land management could not be reached yesterday.

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