Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that he hoped land being registered to rural families as part of the government’s nationwide land-titling program would be used to cultivate rubber trees in order to help the country compete with Vietnam as the world’s third-largest rubber exporter.
Mr. Hun Sen’s speech came three days after environmental watchdog Global Witness released a stinging report highlighting the degradation of forests by Vietnamese rubber firms with economic land concessions (ELC) in Cambodia.
Speaking at the opening of a $26 million rubber plantation and processing factory in Stung Treng province, Mr. Hun Sen said that by utilizing some of the 2 million hectares of land that has been registered under his titling program, Cambodia could reach its target of 840,000 hectares of rubber plantations within five years.
“Now, we are measuring land for our people—about 2 million hectares in size. Most of them can grow rubber,” he said. “This is just the start, soon after the volunteer students finish their task for measuring the land and providing land titles there will be more rubber plantations.”
Presently, there are 280,000 hectares of land planted with rubber trees, 118,000 of which is inside ELCs, while another 107,600 is on small-scale farms, Mr. Hun Sen said, adding that about 1 million of the approximately 1.5 million hectares of land that has been leased to private companies as ELCs are registered as rubber plantations.
“We estimate that within several years, our rubber plantation area will be larger than Vietnam, as now, Vietnam has run out of open land to use for rubber,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
According to Camcontrol, the government’s trade regulator, Cambodia exported 54,000 tons of natural rubber resin worth about $158 million in 2012. That figure is still miniscule compared to Vietnam, where rubber exports totaled 1 million tons worth more than $2.8 billion last year, according to data from the Vietnam Rubber Group, a conglomerate of rubber companies.
Despite its growing rubber industry, much of Cambodia’s rubber is transported as liquid resin over the border to Vietnam to be processed, meaning Cambodia looses out on much of the value-added exports once the rubber has been processed.