Farmers feel the pressure after conservation crackdown around Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake

Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake is surrounded by a conservation area that consists of three zones: Zone 1 and 2, where farming is allowed, and Zone 3, which is closest to the lake and where agriculture and fishing are officially banned.

Bat Savoeun claims he has Prime Minister Hun Sen’s signoff to farm his 2 hectares of land in Prek Tabaek village, on the edge of the swelling Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia’s Pursat province.

Sitting at the drink shop next to a disassembled bridge crossing one of the lake’s skinny tributaries in April, Savoeun said he can’t produce a permit, but he claims Pursat province residents had petitioned in Phnom Penh in 2010 to farm the flatlands surrounding Tonle Sap and that Prime Minister Hun Sen had agreed. Regardless of that petition’s claims, the 32-year-old farmer and resident said the area had been rice fields for most of his life.

“It was similar to this,” he said, looking out into the field now covered in a spiny weed that grabs the pantlegs of passing motorbike drivers who get too close. “It already looked like a rice farm, we’ve been doing farming for a long time.”

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