Several hundred families in Kampong Thom province have written letters to the National
Assembly and have contacted local NGOs out of concern that a deal between the government
and a rubber plantation company will cause them to lose their land.
The government announced several years ago that it wanted to increase rubber production
by encouraging companies and small-scale family producers to establish plantations.
One explicit aim of the policy was to reduce rural poverty.
The government signed a deal with Chup Rubber Plantation Company in 2001 that handed
the company 12 square kilometers of land that fell inside the concession areas of
two major logging companies: GAT and Colexim. The villagers live within the former
logging concession area.
According to the villagers, Chup told them they would be allowed to plant one hectare
of rubber saplings each year for three years. That would leave them with three hectares
of land, no matter how much land they farmed previously.
The villagers would also be permitted to plant just two crops - soya and sesame seed
- in the rows between the trees to earn money while the trees were growing, but only
for the first three years. As rubber trees take around seven years before they can
be tapped, that left the villagers staring at four years without income.
The Post was unsuccessful in its efforts to contact Chup, but Ly Phalla, director-general
of the rubber plantation directorate at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and
Fisheries, said the villagers were under a misapprehension. Phalla told the Post
that those villagers who took the land offered by Chup would be allowed to grow crops,
including rice, fruit trees and mung beans, for seven years.
"The villagers will be allowed to act as smallholders and can grow inter-cropping
in the rows between the rubber trees," Phalla said.
Nou Phoeung, governor of Kampong Thom, said that only a few of the villagers had
holdings larger than three hectares.
"They are doing slash and burn agriculture and have not much skill in improving
their crops," he said. Phoeung said the farmers' complaints had been incited
by outsiders. He added that those villagers who suffered from food shortages in the
next few years would receive some help from the provincial government, but could
not expect to get continuous assistance throughout the period.
The National Assembly's Human Rights Commission had no record of a letter from the
villagers in its register, but the Post has seen a copy of the letter addressed to
the Assembly dated 18 October 2001.
In that letter 211 families who have lived in Tomring commune since 1983 claimed
logging concessionaire Colexim sent in 15 armed men on behalf of the Chup Rubber
Plantation Company and told them to leave. The villagers had earlier told the company
they were not interested in signing up to Chup's plan to develop the area as a rubber
"We were told that if we did not move, the company [Colexim} would destroy our
homes with a bulldozer," stated the letter. It added that the armed men had
also confiscated hoes and knives from the villagers.
The Post visited the affected villages late last month. Mounh Hoeu is the acting
chief of Runtas village which sits in the center of the rubber concession area. He
and his fellow villagers are strongly against the plan.
"[Chup] told us that what they are doing is developing our village," he
said. "But I don't understand why they are developing us from better-off to
worse-off, from seven hectares of land to only three. We do not agree with this idea."
Hoeu said that despite protests from the villagers, Chup would not budge. The company
told them the deal with the government meant it was within its rights to develop
"The government people are all sitting in good chairs and rooms," said
Hoeu. "They do not face problems like we do."
Hoeu said 80 families lived in his village, each with between three and ten hectares
of forest land. He explained that the villagers commonly practice shifting cultivation.
Most of their income, he said, comes from tapping resin trees, but since 1995 they
have lost resin trees to illegal logging, then to logging companies that have cut
them down. Average income in his village had fallen sharply from around 1 million
riel a year to around 200,000 riel.
Worse than that, said Hoeu, was that with the forest clearance program currently
underway in the rubber concession area, income from non-timber products would disappear
"Most of our income comes from non-timber forest products such as resin oil,
vines and wild fruits," said Hoeu. "We want to save them, because without
them we cannot survive."
The acting chief of Tumring commune, Ngoun Mao, is worried that the next generation
will have no land to support their families.
"Our population is growing day by day," he said, "but our land remains
the same size or shrinks. The red soil does not grow in the same way that vegetables
Representatives of 134 families from villagers living south of the rubber plantation
area wrote October 2001 to an NGO in Kampong Thom town pleading for assistance.
"We villagers strongly do not want to change our lands to the company,"
it said. "We only want to keep our old land." Another letter stated that
some villagers owned as much as five hectares, which meant under Chup's scheme they
would lose almost half their holding.
Ou Yos, deputy chief of Khos village, agreed the villagers likely had no legal title
to the land, but said the land had been passed down to them by their ancestors. Now,
he said, Chup had taken their land and would only give them three hectares on which
to grow rubber trees instead of the crops they were familiar with.
"We are very concerned about our food supplies next year," he said. "For
a long time we have grown rice, but now they will allow us to plant only mung beans.
Who will give us rice if the mung beans fail?"