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Opposition Lawmakers Want ‘Social’ Land to Go to Farmers

Cambodian farmers cut rice at a rice paddy farm during the harvest season at Sala Kumrou, Puresat province, file photo.
Cambodian farmers cut rice at a rice paddy farm during the harvest season at Sala Kumrou, Puresat province, file photo.
PHNOM PENH - Cambodian lawmakers have passed a new law on agriculture, but critics say the law does not go far enough to protect the country’s farmers.

The law passed on Thursday evening, but not before debate at the National Assembly.

During the debate opposition representatives called on the Cambodian government to stop providing land concessions to private companies—either for economic or “social” aims. So-called social land concessions are supposed to go toward the poor. But opposition lawmakers warn that they too can be abused by private companies.

Instead, such land concession should be considered for farmers, Yim Sovann, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, told the National Assembly.

Many farmers lack the land it takes to enter agribusiness, he said. At least one if five farmers don’t have Cambodian land to farm, he said.

“Without land, farmers can’t be called farmers,” he said. “And if 20 percent of Cambodian farmers [don’t have land], that will be a serious a serious problem for the future of the country.”

That means more land needs to go farmers, and not to foreign companies, he said.

Yim Sovann also said the government should create a fund of $100 million to protect rice farmers against price fluctuations. That money could come from revenues on casino tariffs, he said.

Ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Vun Chheang responded to Yim Sovann’s proposal, saying the suggestions by the opposition were not practical.

“This is the language of politics, and the figures shown by Mr. Sovann are just imaginary,” he said, prior to a vote that passed the draft law.

Chan Sarun, a CPP government representative, told the Assembly that a $100-million fund is not possible. And he said the government has already banned land concessions, since May 2012. Some 50,000 hectares have been saved from private development since the ban, he said.

In fact, watchdog and rights groups have said many concession deals have continued, despite an announced ban by Prime Minister Hun Sen in May 2012.

The agriculture law has nine chapters, and its supporters say it will encourage more farming and improve the lives of farmers by raising their income.