CCDR policy brief: Economic land concessions decrease rural household incomes in Cambodia
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Much recent literature on privatization and enclosure in the Global South has focused on land grabbing: a popular term for the large-scale acquisition of land or land-related rights and resources by corporate (business, non-profit or public) entities (White et al., 2012). In Cambodia, Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) were formalized in the Land Law of 2001 as long-term leases granting state land to a concessionaire for industrial agricultural development. In 2012, the area under ELCs passed two million hectares, more than half of the country’s arable land (Vriese and Naren, 2012). ELC arrangements are made at levels of national and provincial governments; they are designed to boost growth, modernize agriculture by increasing land holding size for achieving higher efficiency and productivity, and contribute to improving rural livelihoods. There are, however, no indications that ELCs in Cambodia have contributed to reducing rural poverty in directly affected communities (LICADHO, 2005; Scheidel et al., 2013). As rural households in Cambodia are highly reliant on incomes from agricultural lands and uncultivated environments, this large-scale land allocation may have affected some 400,000 people, as leased land is obtained mostly from areas used by small-holder farmers to produce agricultural and environmental products (LICADHO, 2013).
New empirical evidence of the negative effects of ELCs on rural incomes and livelihoods is presented here (see Jiao et al., 2015 for more details about the analysis). Data was generated through a structured household survey aiming at collecting high-quality environmentally-augmented rural household-level income. A total of 600 households were randomly selected and interviewed in Takaen Commune in Kampot Province, Sangkae Satob in Kampong Speu, and Tum Ring in Kampong Thom. Site selection criteria included: (i) large areas deforested within the last 10-15 years (agricultural frontier), and (ii) some degree of household-level environmental product reliance.
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