Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina suggested that local authorities work hard to protect land concessions that have been granted to private companies, warning that encroachment had occurred on several of them.

Tina made the call while on a field visit to the agro-industrial plantation of Mega Farm – a joint venture (JV) between locally-owned Soma Group and Thailand-based Charoeun Phokphand (CP) – in Preah Vihear province’s Rovieng district on June 28. The JV has been granted more than 8,000ha of economic land concession (ELC).

Tina explained that the government’s main goal in granting ELCs is to boost the development of agriculture, including agro-industry and animal husbandry, not just for domestic supply but also for export production, said an agriculture ministry press release.

“The ministry and stakeholders are pushing the development of ELCs as part of the government’s plan. We encourage local authorities to protect the companies’ investments, which is on state land, from illegal encroachment,” he said.

During his visit, Tina inspected warehouses and corn processing machines and sought to gain a deeper understanding about plantation infrastructure, irrigation systems and the use of automated machinery.

Soeng Sen Karuna – deputy head of human rights, land and natural resources monitoring and spokesman for rights group ADHOC – expressed support for Tina’s call, but noted that encroachment prevention may not yet be as effective as it should be.

“Relevant government institutions and local authorities conduct thorough studies before granting a licence to any company to invest in state land, but they should monitor the firms’ activities to ensure they are really developing the land,” he said.

On June 5, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that even though the national election is approaching, authorities must strictly prevent any illegal encroachment activities.

He ordered all provincial governors and authorities to prevent illegal logging and encroachment in their jurisdictions, and warned that any official found to be involved in encroachment on state land would be prosecuted without exception.