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marginalised communities to claim land tenure security

Friday, September 2, 2016 - 17:06

Land grabs linked to logging, agro-industry, resource extraction and infrastructure projects have cost the livelihoods of thousands of Cambodian farmers, indigenous people and fishing communities in recent decades.

ActionAid Cambdodia is working with national and grassroots NGOs to create an enabling environment for dialogue and cooperation between civil society, the government, and the private sector, to improve land tenure security.

ActionAid is supporting farmers affected by a Chinese-backed dam project in the northern province of Oddar Meanchey seeking compensation for their lost land and livelihoods.

Peng Lung, a 46-year-old small holder farmer with two young children tells their story in this podcast: 

Cambodian farmers demand compensation for land lost to Chinese-built dam

Sra Keo, Oddar Meanchey/ Phnom Penh. August 2016

File 35025

A farming community in northwest Cambodia is fighting for survival since part of their land was claimed for the construction of a new Chinese-built dam.

Their homes and farmland will be submerged but they have yet to receive details of any compensation.

“All our farmland will be flooded by the dam,” said Chang Saroeun, 48, a spokesman for 158 families in Sra Keo village who said his family stand to lose about 18 hectares of land planted with mango, cassava and jackfruit.  

“So far I haven’t received any compensation from the government. I am disabled so it’s really hard to support my family,” he added, referring to the left side of his body where he lost an eye and a hand to a land mine explosion -- still common occurrences today in the once war-torn border region.

Villages without men

As he speaks, several dozen small children play noisily in the shade, escaping the blistering midday sun as their mothers and elderly grandmothers hand out snacks to keep them quiet.

The father of seven is one of the few men in the village who has not emigrated to nearby Thailand to work in construction or farming.

His neighbor, Peng Lung, the mother of two small children, makes her living from selling cassava crops grown on their 10 hectares of land.

“The authorities and the company do not speak with us… I just want them to propose a price for the land,” she said.

Rights groups report that almost every district in this northern province of Oddar Meanchey has seen land grabs linked to commercial interests, infrastructure projects and the military which have forced small farmers to emigrate.

The dam -- built by Chinese hydropower giant Sinohydro Corporation Limited with a loan from the Chinese government of US$67 million, according to state news agency AKP – will supply irrigation and drinking water to the region when it is completed.

In recent years the southeast Asian nation – one of the region’s fastest growing economies -- has seen a sharp uptick in Chinese infrastructure investments, some of them scenes of bitter land disputes.

Although public information about the Oddar Meanchey dam project has been sparse it is expected to be completed by September and to fully flood Sra Keo village and partially submerge several neighboring villages.


“A dialogue needs to start to find a solution for these people who have lost their land,” said Jeudi Say, a program officer with ActionAid Cambodia working with the community as part of an EU-funded land rights project. *

The local district chief, Phak Noren, told ActionAid that the provincial government had pledged compensation for the farmers.

“The authorities have promised that the people in Sra Keo village will not be moved without compensation,” he said.

But time is running out for the community as bulldozers put the final touches to the dam and planting season begins.

As the deadline for the floodgates’ closure edges nearer, their trust is wearing thin.

“I don’t believe them. The company has made many promises and the deadlines just keep changing,” said Saroeun, with a look of resignation.

“The government should resolve this… they should speed up the process because I have a lot of loans to pay back.”

*‘Empowering CSOs and Marginalised Communities in Cambodia to Claim Land Tenure Security’ is a three-year project funded by the European Union and run by ActionAid Cambodia, CCHR, BCV and the Children and Women Development Centre in Cambodia (CWDCC).  

The project works with fishing communities, smallholder farmers and civil society workers in Kampot, Oddar Meanchey and at national level.

It is part of ActionAid International’s global fight for poor communities affected by land grabs and rights violations in more than 20 countries.

Further information, please contact:

Rachana BUNN, Natural Resources and Land Programme Officer. Cell: (855) 89 476 146