Over 1,000 hectares of agricultural land granted as compensation to more than 300 ethnic Lao families displaced from Sre Kor village in Stung Treng province by the Lower Sesan II dam project have not been cleared for cultivation, threatening the families with a food shortage, the villagers say.
Between January and March, ethnic Lao villagers began relocating from Sre Kor village to new homes 3 kilometres away. In addition to a sum of around $6,000 and a plot of land to live on, the Hydropower Lower Sesan II Co Ltd offered each family that agreed to relocate 5 hectares of land for farming, which it pledged to clear and plough in advance.
However, Srekor Commune Chief Siek Mekong yesterday said that much of the land has yet to be prepared.
“It influences their livelihood since they consume only their natural rice, not the rice from the market,” Mekong said.
According to Mekong, of the 1,500 hectares given to the families, only 450 hectares have been ploughed, primarily by villagers who can afford to hire other farmers with tractors, who charge between 150,000 riel ($37) to 200,000 riel ($50) per hectare.
“[The villagers] have sacrificed their old location for the nation,” he said. “Provincial authorities should urge the company to plough for the people.”
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Stung Treng Provincial Deputy Governor Duong Pov said the company will finish ploughing the land this month, clarifying that clearing and ploughing the land was not the government’s responsibility.
“The state gave this task to the company to complete,” said Pov. “[The ploughing] is late because it is the rainy season and the vehicles find it hard to [clear].”
Lower Sesan II representative Um Ret repudiated Mekong’s assertions, stating that the company cleared 90 percent of the agricultural land. Ret claimed that the remaining area belongs to villagers who came late to the relocation area and recommended that villagers ask local authorities to notify the company if their land still required ploughing.
Yet Bun Leap, a coordinator at 3S Rivers Protection Network, said that villagers had already complained the resettlement land was not prepared for agricultural use during an NGO Forum-sponsored meeting between villagers and representatives of the Ministry of Mines and Energy in Phnom Penh in March.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy did not respond to requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Martin de Bourmont