B Meanchey Villagers Protest To Keep Farming Floodplain

Farmers claim they have cultivated the land, recently redesignated by the Forestry Administration, for 30 years

Dozens of farmers protested out­side the offices of the Banteay Meanchey provincial authority on Thursday demanding that they be allowed to continue farming in areas of the Tonle Sap floodplain that have recently been designated out-of-bounds by the Forestry Ad­ministration, officials said.

The protest was prompted by last week’s confiscation by Forestry Administration officials of a tractor belonging to a Mong­kol Borei district deputy governor that was being used to clear the flooded forest.

Provincial Forestry Admin­is­tration Chief Ly Veng said the roughly 90 protesters were invited to attend a meeting with pro­vincial officials, during which the farmers demanded to be allowed to continue farming in the forested floodplain. The villagers claim they have farmed more than 100 hectares of the plain in Mongkol Borei since the 1980s.

“Whatever I did in confiscating the tractor belonging to the villagers and the district governor was in accordance with the Fish­eries Law,” Mr Veng said, adding that the protest was actually organized by the owner of the im­pounded tractor, Deputy District Governor Meas Sam­nang. Mr Samnang had rented his tractor to the villagers so that they could clear the forest to increase their land holdings in the floodplain, Mr Veng added.

En Savicheth, who chaired Thurs­day’s meeting between the farmers and authorities and who is also a deputy governor of Mong­kol Borei, said that his colleague, Mr Samnang, would have his tractor retuned once he paid a fine. The villagers, however, will need permission from the national government to be allowed to continue farming on the floodplain, which will require official property titles, or they will be of­fered alternative land elsewhere.

“A field investigation at the site will be made to determine whe­ther the land being claimed has been used for many years or was just recently cleared for encroachment,” Mr Savicheth said. A resolution will be reached based on the “reality of the field investigation,” he added.

“We cannot let lose their farmland, nor let the nation lose the high value forested area,” he said.

Soum Chankea, provincial co­ordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the situation is complicated as more than 100 hec­tares of land have been cultivated for rice production for the past 10 years, though there is also evidence of new forest clearance to expand farms.

The government set Friday as the deadline for the removal of 16 large, man-made reservoirs and canal systems dug into the lake’s floodplain in Kompong Thom pro­vince to store water for massive farming operations that produce crops during the dry season. Such large-scale agro-industrial developments, which have been implemented in all five provinces ringing the Great Lake, are threatening fish stocks and the eco-system of the Tonle Sap, officials say.

 

 

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