The World Bank on Tuesday warned that large-scale farmland purchases posed a threat to the rights of farmers in Cambodia and elsewhere in the world, a conclusion that follows criticism by human rights workers of Cambodia’s economic land concessions to private firms.
Big land acquisitions by investors raise “a real concern about the ability of local institutions to protect vulnerable groups from losing land on which they have legitimate, if not formally recognized claims,” the World Bank said in a new report on growing global demand for farmland.
“The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these land deals must be lifted so poor people don’t ultimately pay the heavy price of losing their land,” World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement.
Officials with the Ministry of Agriculture and Council for the Development of Cambodia could not be reached.
The conclusions were based on data from Cambodia and 13 other countries, according to the report. Cambodia officially recorded 61 concessions from 1990 to 2006, the most recent year for which data was available after the government failed to release an updated inventory in 2009, the report stated.
Those concessions total some 958,000 hectares, with a median concession size of almost 9,000 hectares. Seventy percent of that concession land was granted to domestic investors.
In Cambodia, the report noted that “large concessions continue to be granted despite a sub-decree aiming to limit this practice,” and that “public information on economic land concessions remains incomplete.”
In a May letter, five local NGOs urged international donors to take a stand against economic concessions and call on the government to enact a moratorium on such land leases. The letter said these concessions “have led to increased landlessness and deprivation, displacement and environmental destruction.”
Ouch Leng, land program officer for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that the government had granted concessions in violation of proper legal procedure, which includes creating impact assessments and consulting local communities.
“The private companies and the government never complete the legal procedure of the land concession,” Mr Leng said.
(Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng)