Small-scale farmers will suffer under draft agricultural law: advocates

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Farmers and agricultural NGOs slammed the seventh and final draft of a controversial agricultural law at a workshop in Phnom Penh yesterday, claiming that the law would benefit large corporations at the expense of small farmers if passed.

Thirty farmers who say they represent 5,000 colleagues across two dozen provinces travelled to the workshop at the Germany-Cambodia Friendship Center in Phnom Penh yesterday to demand the government drop its efforts to pass the law.

The law has been hotly debated since 2011, when the Ministry of Agriculture first revealed it.

As written, the draft law would empower the ministry to direct the types and numbers of crops farmers can grow, impose heavy fines on farmers for damaging the environment and seize agricultural land that they deem is being underused.

Nhil Pheap, a representative of a farmer network in Takeo province, said the law also makes it easier for the government to offer land to private companies.

“The forests, coasts and lakes, which are for people . . . [the government]will declare as barren land and offer it to companies,” Pheap said.

Yos Sophoan, a representative of farmers in Svay Rieng province, said the law puts huge financial and time burdens on small-scale farmers who will be required to register their land and farming techniques with the ministry.

“They would need to spend a lot of time for the registration, and they do not have much knowledge about that,” Sophoan said.

Farmers said their greatest concern is the heavy fines – $2,500 to $5,000 for individuals or entities who damage the land or water while clearing the land or using pesticides, or for using falsified documents to obtain land.

Hean Vanhorn, general director of the General Agriculture Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, denied that the law would negatively affect farmers and said that some NGOs had turned people against the ministry.

“No one created the law to hurt the people,” Vanhorn said. “They only made the law to boost the people’s standard of living, but some NGOs often cause conflict again and again.”

According to Vanhorn, the ministry hoped to pass the law by the end of the year but may delay until next year.

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