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Kingdom’s arable land all but gone

Kingdom’s arable land all but gone

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If the government continues to grant economic land and mining concessions at the current rate, there will be no more arable land left in the country to give away within one year, a researcher from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said yesterday.

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Pointing to the vast increase in economic land concessions granted last year alone, which rights group Adhoc places at about 800,000 hectares, Ouch Leng, the head of the CCHR’s land reform program, said only 300,000 hectares of unclaimed arable land remained.

“The government can grant licenses for one more year because the remaining arable land is only 386,294 hectares,” he said.

Exploratory mining concessions had been included in this calculation, he said, because while firms granted these rights did not technically own the land, they acted like it in practice by erecting fences and expelling villagers from the area.

Ouch Leng said increasing outbreaks of civil unrest across the country such as the protests in Kandal, Kratie and Ratanikkiri province were sounding a clear message that Prime Minister Hun Sen had begun to heed.

On Monday, the premier canceled all 35 commercial fishing lots on the Tonle Sap lake, leaving the country’s most fertile fishing ground entirely for small scale fishermen.

Beng Hong Socheat Khnmero, spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, said ELCs were not the responsibility of his ministry and deferred questions to Ministry of Agriculture officials, who could not be reached for comment.

But figures released by the Ministry of Agriculture on Tuesday showed 1.19 million hectares had now been granted in ELCs, far below findings from rights groups Adhoc and Licadho released late last year, which put the number closer to 2 million.  

A map from Licadho obtained by the Post shows that 54.90 per cent of all arable land in Cambodia had been absorbed by ELC’s alone up until November 2011.

Am Sam Ath, senior investigator at Licadho, said that the latest figures show two-thirds of all arable land in Cambodia has now been given away through ELCs.

“We [Cambodians] are dependent on agriculture, but two-thirds of arable land has been granted as economic land concessions,” he said.

“I don’t know if the government is worried, but NGOs are.”

Statistics released by Adhoc last year found that when all types of private concessions were added together, including forest concessions, about 39 per cent of Cambodia’s entire land mass has been granted to private firms.

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