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11.12.2023 | Blog

Land Grabbing in Cambodia

Cheated out of their own land: In Cambodia, land grabbing and landmines fuel hunger and poverty. Food security in the country means shoring up land laws and clearing these mines.

Frau beim Gemüse- und Kräuteranbau in Kambodscha
With the support of Welthungerhilfe, this woman grows vegetables and herbs in her own garden © Jens Grossmann

In Cambodia, approximately 70 per cent of the population live from traditional agriculture, that is, predominantly from their harvest. For some, there is a little left over that they can sell at the local market. But cultivable land is scarce. The award of land rights to foreign investors is to blame - and the civil war.

No Land for Living

Ry Sarum once possessed six hectares of land. From this, he and his family could live well. One day, a large agricultural company came and asked him whether he wanted to sell his land. Despite his refusal, a few days later his crops were cleared. His complaint was not heard by the authorities. Instead, they told him that the land no longer belonged to him. And this is not an isolated case: In his village at the same time a further 29 families lost their fields. 

Meanwhile, one in every five households in Cambodia no longer has any land of its own from which people could live off its harvests. The blame here lies with the award of concessions and legal contracts, which go to private agricultural companies on a large scale. Where forests and villages once were, rubber now grows, one of Cambodia's main export goods. 

Fighting Land Grabbing with Legal Assistance and Land Titles

In order that it does not get this far, Welthungerhilfe (WHH) is supporting the local human rights organisation Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) to inform farmers of their rights. If it comes to a dispute over land, the NGO provides the relevant legal assistance. 

What protects against land grabbing are documents proving that the land belongs to the family. A land title is far too expensive, however, for a simple farmer. Here, WHH is cooperating closely with the organisations Centre d'Etude et de Developpement Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC) and Save Cambodia's Wildlife to support communities in the acquisition of legal documents. 

The legacy of the civil war: Land mines

In the north west of the country, people are faced with another very different problem: The province of Oddar Meanchey is particularly characterised by the long-term effects of the decades-long civil war - and these are hidden in the soil. Cambodia is one of the world's worst countries for land mine contamination. Experts assume that more than two million explosive devices are buried. Since 1979, 64,000 people have been injured or killed by land mines in Cambodia. And even today the soil cannot be cultivated in many places. More than 50 per cent of the population is therefore chronically undernourished.

Abholzung Kambodscha
Deforestation in Cambodia © Hacky Hagemeyer

Clearing Mines - Creating Prospects

In the Anlong Veng district, WHH is working closely with the international mine clearance organisation Halo Trust and local organisation Khmer Buddhist Association, in order to clear the land of mines and to improve the nutritional situation, as well as the political and socio-economic status of inhabitants. 

In the village of Trapeang Tavs, for example, the living situation was able to be significantly improved as a result. In 2001, just twelve families lived here. The land was much too dangerous to cultivate rice or vegetables - far too many people in the area have already died as a result of land mines. 

Since then, it has been possible to clear mines from 45 hectares of land, which the inhabitants can now use once more. They also learned more productive cultivation methods and planted vegetable gardens. The two measures together improved the food situation in the village enormously. In addition, our partner organisation Khmer Buddhist Association promoted new income opportunities in small business, through training courses and small animal husbandry. Due to these successes, today 800 families again live in Trapeang Tavs. 

How WHH Supports People in Cambodia:

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