The total number of land concessions offered by the government to private agro-industrial firms hit 1.19 million hectares, or 13.5 percent of Cambodia’s total land mass, a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday.
The government figure undermines figures released late last year by rights groups Adhoc and Licadho, which said the actual number of hectares given to firms is nearly twice as much.
Ith Nody, undersecretary of state at the ministry, announced the figure during a speech at the Ministry of Land Management’s annual meeting and said that concessions have been granted to 118 agro-industry firms across 17 provinces.
He also said that the number would have been higher, but that an additional 51 firms that were granted a total of 479,000 hectares in concessions have since had their land reclaimed due to a failure to comply with their contracts.
Of the 118 companies that received concessions, 41 were given to Cambodian-owned firms, while Vietnamese, Chinese and South Korean firms received 28, 27 and five concessions respectively, Mr. Nody said. The remaining 17 concessions were granted to firms from the US (2) Israel (1), India (3), Sweden (1), Australia (1), Malaysia (3), Thailand (5), and Singapore (1).
“The advantage of providing land concessions will be in the provision of infrastructure by the firms, and will contribute to rural developments, including roads, schools, health centers…and homes for the workers,” Mr. Nody said.
According to figures released in November by local rights group Adhoc, agro-firms controlled 2,153,408 hectares of land thanks to concessions, nearly a million hectares of which were granted in 2011. Yi Sok San, a senior human rights investigator at Adhoc, said that regardless of the possible benefits of land concessions, the manner in which they are developed has resulted in an increasing number of violent protests and landlessness among evicted villagers.
“When the government offers land to a company, the surveyor just conducts the study on a land map and does not even go visit the site directly,” he said.