First Families Get Land Titles in Criticized World Bank Project

The government has handed out the first 250 land titles to the more than 3,000 families in a World Bank-funded project for poor Cambodians that has been criticized by a local rights group for sticking many of those families with unusable land.

With $12.7 million from the Bank and Germany’s foreign aid arm, the government has doled out a total of 10,000 hectares to families across eight project sites around the country since 2008. The project, Land Allocation for Social Economic Development, aims to set up landless or land-poor families with their own private property.

Last week, the Bank announced that the 250 families at a site in Tbong Khmum province received their land titles in September for between 2 hectares and 2.5 hectares each, along with additional “livelihood support” including food, crop seeds and materials for building a house.

The Tbong Khmum families, the Bank said in a statement, “are happy because they are confident that their land will not be taken away from them now that they possess a land title.”

Though the project officially ended in March, families at the other seven sites—plus six more set up by Japan—will be eligible for their own land titles in the coming years. A family must occupy its plot for five consecutive years before it can apply for a title, and some of the project sites were not set up until 2012.

The Bank and the government hope that the project will serve as a model for a pending second phase, which would make improvements to the existing 14 sites and add one more. But rights group Licadho says the first phase of the project has been a failure and should not be replicated.

After surveying all eight sites supported by the Bank and Germany between October 2014 and March, Licadho said most families complained about the land they got, either because the soil could not support crops or because it was covered by forest they could not afford to clear.

In a report released in June, Licadho said the Tbong Khmum site, where the 250 families received their titles in September, was the only exception. Elsewhere, it said, many of the families were no better off than when they got the land or were doing even worse, having taken on new debt in order to get by at the new sites. Many of the families, it added, had either decided not to move onto the free land or given up and left, risking their chances at eventually getting a title.

The project, it said, “is far from a replicable model, and nowhere near a success story by any


The Bank did not reply to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Land Management Ministry, the Bank’s partner, could not be reached. In June, however, the spokesman dismissed Licadho’s report as ill-informed.

Before it can approve funding for a second phase to the project, the Bank will have to lift a moratorium in place on all new lending to Cambodia in 2011 in protest over the government’s refusal to accept land title claims from the residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood.

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