Securing land rights defuses conflicts in Cambodia

October 28, 2010
IDRC Communications
LASTING IMPACTS

The hill people in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province set a powerful precedent that has served as a model for the country’s land tenure laws. With IDRC support, they protected their livelihoods — under threat from logging and land-clearing — by establishing legal rights to their land and its resources.

In the early 1990s, the Cambodian government readily granted contracts to investors for rubber and palm oil plantations and logging. This unrestrained development endangered the region’s forests — the source of food, fuel, medicine, and other essentials for local communities.

A research team led by the regional United Nations Development Programme office explored ways to address these resource conflicts at the local level. Researchers worked with villagers to develop processes for creating detailed maps and plans for the region, showing its customary boundaries as well as rules of conservation and allocation of resources.

These efforts convinced the governor of Ratanakiri to recognize the hill people’s traditional use of the land. Developers in conflict with the villagers were forced to back down, setting an encouraging precedent.

“On the ground, the project showed that community planning can be a powerful tool in addressing outside pressure,” says IDRC Senior Program Specialist Hein Mallee.

The researchers also established the need to include provisions for communal land tenure in Cambodia’s new land law. The participatory planning process used in Ratanakiri served as a model for the nation.

"The research was instrumental in incorporating natural resource issues in Cambodia’s local planning processes,” Mallee says. “It helped put the issue of communal land tenure on the national policy agenda."

Photo: Ratanakiri, Cambodia, Ethan Crowley

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