Small-scale farmers whose land falls within the boundaries of the Tonle Sap protected forest area may be allowed to continue farming, officials said yesterday.
Authorities last week completed the demarcation of a 640,000-hectare conservation area comprised of floodplains and forests, considered important fish habitats during annual flooding. Farming is prohibited inside the new protected area.
Battambang deputy governor Sieng Sothang said that affected farmers had begun submitting requests to commune, district and provincial authorities to be allowed to continue using the land.
“We will seriously investigate whether or not they are small farmers and residents in the [affected] villages,” Mr Sothang said. He said that small-scale local farmers would be allowed to continue working the land, but would have no right to sell the land they work on.
Mr Sothang added that authorities had already begun examining plots inside the forest’s zone three to determine who owned them.
Thoeun Yin, 57, said she has lost a three-hectare farm, in Siem Reap province’s Kralanh district, to the protected zone. Ms Yin said she had been working the small farm since 1998.
“We would like the government to allow us to farm in the area or else we have nothing to make a living,” she said.
Nao Thuok, Fisheries Administration director, said yesterday that no farming should be allowed in the area.
“This is a designated area to conserve flooded forest and they cannot be allowed to do farming because it destroys the forest,” he said.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor for local rights group Adhoc, said that farmers should participate in the conservation efforts to preserve fish stock. However he said the impoverished small farmers, who rely on these areas for their livelihoods, should be given alternative plots of land on which to earn a living.
“If they are landless the government should provide them other pieces of land to farm,” he said.
Research conducted in 2005 found that around 700,000 hectares of flooded forest remained around the lake. Since then 160,000 hectares of forest have vanished, according to new research conducted by the Tonle Sap Authority.