More than 150 companies operating in 18 provinces have been involved in Economic Land Concession-related conflicts since ELCs were established more than 20 years ago, according to an annual report by the NGO Forum on Cambodia, which was questioned by a government official.
Only 42 of the 158 companies have resolved their conflicts, which affected 35,604 families, the 33-page report said. By the end of last year, an additional 50 companies were said to have partly resolved conflicts.
The 158 companies represent an overwhelming majority of the 267 that were granted ELCs by the government between 1995 and 2011, when the practice of issuing ELCs was discontinued by a sub-decree. The total land-area granted as ELCs throughout Cambodia was 1,532,783.65 hectares.
The province with the most ELCs is Kratie, with 54 companies being granted 277,600.44 hectares of land there. Kampong Thom and Mondulkiri provinces each have 28 ELCs covering 101,108.71 hectares and 177,745.13 hectares of land respectively.
The NGO Forum reported that 72 ELCs were found to be overlapping protected areas including protected forests in 2010. The Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary had the highest number of ELCs – 13 – overlapping it in that year, while the Phnum Prech Wildlife Sanctuary had the highest rate of coverage by ELCs, with nearly 35 percent of the protected area’s total given to land concessions.
ELCs are mostly used as agro-industrial plantations, the NGO Forum report said, and one in every 13 ELCs are rubber plantations. A total of 162 companies use their ELCs for rubber plantations, while 32 ELCs are used for cassava and another 27 ELCs are used for acacia trees, the report adds.
In 2015, 162 ELCs in 17 provinces were evaluated by an inter-ministerial committee. Of these, 138 were allowed to continue their activities unchanged, while 78 ELCs had the size of their ELCs reduced, the report said.
Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said the report helps shed light on the number of ELCs in the Kingdom, as well as the number of those involved in land conflicts.
The report also points out the need for further policy on ELC management to help improve community-based living standards and poverty reduction.
“In some provinces in the northern and northeastern parts of the country, granting ELCs did not respect indigenous rights nor traditional customs,” Mr. Vannara said.
Sy Ramony, the vice-director general of the Ministry of Environment’s Natural Protection and Prevention Department, was critical of the report’s data.
“As we can see in the report, the data mostly was taken from the Agriculture Ministry and Land Management Ministry, but less data from the Environment Ministry was included,” Mr. Ramony said, adding that the state of ELCs in Cambodia in 2016 was quite different than what is reflected by the NGO Forum’s findings. It would have been better if the NGO Forum had collaborated with government ministries before the report was published, he said.
“It is seemly a regret, for information and data in the report is out of date. It will make readers or users confused about the real situation of ELCs in 2016.”
Mr. Vanara disputed these claims, saying his organization’s report was assembled using relevant and recent data from the ministries of agriculture, land management and environment as well as media reports.
When contacted by phone yesterday, officials at the Ministry of Agriculture declined to comment on the NGO Forum report.