Recently appointed Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon held a first-ever meeting with economic land concession (ELC) grantees yesterday and was promptly met with a barrage of complaints.
The local and foreign businesspeople present called on the Agriculture Ministry – which was handed responsibility for ELCs in a swap with the Environment Ministry earlier this year – to do more to quell discontent among people displaced by concessions.
Lim Heng, director of the Ly Heng Group, said the communities living on his ELCs viewed the company as their enemy.
“We are experiencing conflicts with the community. Why? Because no announcements have been made to them,” Heng said. “The ministry or the state should have told them about the benefits and positive points of ELCs, so they would understand that our investment is for the national economic growth and in the local people’s interest.”
Heng suggested the ministry produce video spots to raise awareness of the benefits of ELCs and the company’s right to use and cultivate the land before handing it to the state at the end of its 50-year lease.
Heng Sarat, a representative of TTY Agriculture in Kratie province, said that government officials returning land to evicted families had considerably weakened the original investment of the company, owned by businessman Na Mardy.
He said the company was originally granted 9,870 hectares, but is now left with only 215, adding that families protesting for land had brought TTY’s operations to a standstill.
“We have many difficulties in clearing the land. They protest immediately after we deploy our vehicles to clear it. The number of families [protesting] increases until we cannot do anything. [Even] the people who have already been granted land continue to join the protests with the newcomers,” he said, adding that TTY had invested a substantial amount in local infrastructure.
Sakhon promised to address the concerns raised at the meeting. “For more than 10 years already, the ministry has observed how to solve problems effectively,” Sakhon said. “For the last few months my team and I have put a lot of effort into solving problems.”
A 2015 report on land rights by NGO Adhoc found in that many cases ELCs had “adversely impacted local residents livelihoods and/or were responsible for significant environmental degradation”.