MORE than 10 per cent of Ratanakkiri's 80,000 in habitants are recent immigrants
from the low lands wanting to farm the province's fertile hills, according to provincial
authorities who are encouraging the moves.
However the migration has been criticized by NGOs working with hill tribes, who say
Ratanakkiri's indigenous people will pay a heavy price for their new neighbors.
The majority of people in Ratanakkiri are ethnic minorities who depend for their
living on shifting cultivation. They plant only one rice crop a year and rely heavily
on non-timber forest products such as vines, rattan, plant leaves, and traditional
But now they are threatened by the constant flow into the area of lowland Khmer who
have been encouraged to migrate by provincial authorities.
Second deputy governor Bun Hom Oun Many said that more than ten per cent of the province's
people are low landers who have come to live in his province, bringing with them
lowland agricultural practices..
It is easy for the newcomers to obtain land: village heads and commune leaders
seem willing to allocate land in their areas.
Oun Many said that most of the people who move up-country don't want to go back because
the land is so much more fertile. He said the newcomers generally lived in peace
with the ethnic hill-tribe people.
Van Chunly, Ratanakkiri first deputy governor, said the move by Khmer farmers into
the area was welcomed because they brought new sedentary farming techniques which
he hoped the hill tribes would adopt rather than the slash-and-burn model they currently
The newcomers are mostly from Takeo, Svay Rieng and Kampong Cham provinces, where
they were short of land for growing wet rice and farming. Their fields were infertile
and the land suffered from drought and flooding.
Yim Phoy, 43, just moved up from Kampong Cham, came with his family and his brother's
family to live in Pok Pour village, O'Yada district. He arrived in April 1999 and
he was given an 80 metre-wide strip along Route 19 by the chief of the commune.
For his first crop he is growing peanuts because they grow quickly and are easily
marketed in Vietnam at the border checkpoint on Route 19.
Phloy said he was welcomed by the local Jarai village chief in Pok Pour and the commune
chief. He said he will share his experience in the lowland with the Jarai to help
them grow more food. He added that the ethnic minorities have no idea of growing
things for sale; they grow just for their families.
Many said that bringing the technology from lowland to upland will help the indigenous
tribes stop clearing the forest.
However environmentalists are concerned the influx of lowlanders will hurt the indigenous
people's culture and health, citing a promotion of self-interest over the current
emphasis on communal values and the impact on forestry as specific worries.
Van Pisith, Director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA),
said that the newcomers from the lowland will affect the indigenous people in various
ways, such as bringing cheap second-hand modern clothing which will encourage them
to abandon traditional clothing, and breaking down community living with its mutual
help and solidarity.
A spokesman from Non-Timber Forest Products agreed that the indigenous people were
likely to abandon their villages and move deeper into the forest rather than live
next to Khmer immigrants.
He said some lowland people when they arrived seized land left fallow by the indigenous
people as part of their rotation, so that they could not return to lands they had
enjoyed for centuries.
He said the lowlanders were quick to apply for papers establishing title to the land
they occupied, whereas the indigenous tribes had no concept of land title, as all
land had always been held in common.