Authorities in Mondolkiri province have used global satellite positioning technology to measure the farmland of more than 30 families from ethnic Banong villages embroiled in a dispute with the Khaou Chuly firm over more than 2,000 hectares of disputed land, officials and villagers said Wednesday.
Yim Lux, a deputy provincial governor who has been working to mediate the disagreement, said surveyors started measuring the land Jan 2. So far, the land of more than 30 families has been measured, he said.
“We asked them to bring along the ID cards and family books because we need the real person who has used the land because we need to avoid [people] bringing fake [claims],” Yim Lux said.
This new development in the dispute follows a violent protest Dec 20, during which about 400 villagers, incensed by the company clearing their farmland before a compensation agreement was settled, set three earth excavators ablaze and damaged a fourth machine using machetes and axes.
Villagers have said that about 1,030 Banong families from seven villages have legal rights to the 2,705 hectares of land that the Khaou Chuly firm intends to turn into a large-scale rubber plantation.
The villagers have used the land as rotation farmland for decades, residents claim. But the government granted the firm ownership over the land in late 2007 through an economic land concession.
Yim Lux disagreed with that population estimate however, and said that authorities estimate there are only about 136 affected families of the 825 families living in the commune.
The company and government aim to complete the measurements by the end of January, he said, and the figures for the land measured so far are not yet available.
Rotational farming means that families can use, on average, between five to 10 different plots for their crops, and can switch from year to year in order to preserve soil quality. It hasn’t been determined if and when fallow plots will be measured, Yim Lux said.
Villagers said Wednesday they appreciated the measurement work, but also expressed concern about losing rights to rotational farmland that wasn’t in use this season.
“Villagers need the authority to measure the currently used farmland as well as the rotational farmland where we have temporarily stopped farming for a period of time in order to maintain the quality of the soil,” said a 48-year-old Banong villager who declined to be named because of fears of repercussions.
The company has asked villagers to either sell their land outright, or enter into a 50-50 profit sharing agreement with the rubber plantation. But villagers still haven’t decided which option to accept, said another 50-year-old villager who also declined to be named.
“Some Banong villagers want to sell half of their farmland to the company while others want the equal share with company and let the company plant the rubber trees,” he said.
Sam Sarin, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said his organization is monitoring the dispute.
“Villagers need an accurate land measurement for both the being-in-use farmland and rotation farms,” he said, in order to reach a fair resolution.