Thursday, 19 July 2007

Economic Land Concessions.

Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) are massive tracts of rural Cambodia granted to private companies. Cambodia’s MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) maintains a list on its website of "current" land concessions granted to 58 companies that covers nearly one million hectares.

Even this staggering number is not the whole story! AltMapCambodia, is trying to get closer to the real picture, including half a million hectares of unofficial concessions. There are many more large unofficial concessions that we weren't able to obtain information on. Furthermore, the smaller ELCs of less than 1000 hectares can be granted at the provincial level and are also invisible to the public.

Why grant so many ELCs? To bring economic benefits, according to the Cambodian government. The MAFF website cites the benefits of intensive agriculture, such as rural employment, state revenues and investment dollars. It seems, however, that ELCs have brought economic benefits to only a small handful of well connected individuals - who were labelled the "kleptocratic elite" by the recent Global Witness report.

Moreover, many of these concessions are used as an excuse for logging native forests (circumventing forestry laws), or for land speculation. It is not surprising that ELCs have had little impact on economic growth or improved agricultural productivity, as noted by the World Bank's Cambodia Poverty assessment for 2006.

Perhaps the greatest harm of ELC’s is to rural Khmer who are forced off their land, often violently, and indigenous communities who loose access to the forests that support their livelihood. This adds up to human rights violations on a grand scale, as reported by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia in June 2007.

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