The Council of Ministers has granted farmers in Kompong Thom province permission to start farming on the floodplains of the Tonle Sap lake in an area previously off limits and home to flooded forests that provide a critical fish breeding habitat.
The Council of Ministers’ notice, dated July 22, lets locals farm inside the province’s portion of a ring that runs around the entire Tonle Sap and is known as Zone Three, where all farming and other development is otherwise strictly prohibited. Despite the ban, people still farm the fertile land and build reservoirs in the dry season, according to authorities, leading to numerous arrests.
Stong district governor Prim Rottha said Council of Ministers Secretary of State Sok Pheng visited the area on Tuesday to present the news in person.
Mr. Rottha declined to provide a copy of the notice, but quoted the key clause.
“We [the Council of Ministers] allow the people the right to farm in Zone Three, but they do not have the right of ownership,” he said, reading from the notice.
Mr. Rottha said locals would not be able to take advantage of the lifting of the ban just yet, however, because officials from the Tonle Sap Authority would still have to come and demarcate plots.
Chamna Krom commune chief Thum Thy said that was only likely to happen after the lake subsides and the dry season arrives sometime in November.
Even so, Mr. Thy said his constituents were glad to see the fertile area reopened for farming.
“I am also happy about this because in the past the people always had disputes with the authorities about this problem,” he said.
Provincial governor Uth Sam On, who said he requested the ban’s lifting, agreed.
“It will make the people and the authorities have peace with each other,” said Mr. Sam On, who added that authorities would nevertheless remain strict about preventing harm to the area’s remaining flooded forests.
Vann Sophanna, deputy director general of the Council for Agriculture and Rural Development, said the government started with the lifting of the Zone Three ban in Kompong Thom because it was where most related disputes have typically occurred, and that the ban would eventually be lifted in the other five provinces ringing the lake.
Mr. Sophanna said there was no environmental risk in letting locals farm the once protected area because most of the flooded forests had been destroyed by past illegal activity.
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