09.06.2017 |

Cambodia: communities protest against land grab by Chinese sugar companies

Fields and forests are converted into sugarcane plantations (Photo: Prame community)

Land grabs by Chinese sugarcane companies have violated fundamental rights of communities in Cambodia, with devastating impacts on people’s livelihoods and the environment. A new report reveals that tens of thousands of people have been affected by land grabs in the province of Preah Vihear, in which Chinese-owned companies were granted land concessions covering more than 40,000 hectares. The report, published by the non-governmental organisations Community Network in Action, Ponlok Khmer, GRAIN, Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association, and the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, exposes the dramatic consequences of these land grabs for local communities.

In 2011, five Chinese-owned companies were granted economic land concessions (ELCs) occupying more than 40,000 hectares. According to the report, the firms are all believed to be subsidiaries of a single Chinese state-owned company, Hengfu Group Sugar Industry, in partnership with another (Huada) and were clearly set up to circumvent Cambodian legislation that prohibits a single company from holding more than 10,000 hectares. ELC land concessions are part of the Cambodian government’s efforts to attract investment and to transform small-scale farmer landscapes into agro-industrial ones. The government hopes this will bring about development and increased profits from agriculture. However, the NGOs behind the report warn that this investment comes at a great human and environmental cost, with little recognisable benefit to communities in the concession areas. “Since they started, ELCs have facilitated the transfer of over 2.1 million hectares of land from small farmers and indigenous groups to large scale corporations and agribusiness,” said GRAIN’s Kartini Samon. “The arguments about the productivity and efficiency of large-scale plantations are false. The truth is that it is small farmers who feed countries like Cambodia”, she added.

In the province of Preah Vihear, in northern Cambodia, the sugarcane concessions have destroyed local livelihoods and food production while the companies produce sugar for export. Many families have lost the means to produce food and earn a living as the Chinese companies have converted rice fields, forests, pasture lands, and streams into sugarcane fields. The reports quotes Sophal, a woman from one of the affected villages in Chhep district, who said: “Our livelihoods have significantly been affected by the clearing of the forest, no more forest products can be collected. We lost our time by spending it monitoring the companies who are demolishing our young rice fields. Our rice yields are also reduced because of the lack of land for agriculture, and the cost for local rice has also reduced because the company can also grow rice and sell it at a cheaper price.” Communities also complained about harmful chemicals used on the sugarcane fields flowing into streams they rely on for water. “Instead of stimulating development, ELCs disrupt local and indigenous livelihoods. They destroy biodiversity and natural ecosystems,” said Ang Cheatlom, Executive Director of Ponlok Khmer. The affected communities in Preah Vihear have called for the concessions to be cancelled and the land returned to them. The publishers of the report support this demand, urging the Chinese government to intervene through ist embassy in Cambodia. They also called on the Cambodian government to return the land back to the indigenous communities. (ab)

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