Farmers seek land reform changes

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Farmers and indigenous people have renewed their call for the government to drop a draft law on agricultural land which they allege  could seriously affect small-scale producers.

Farm groups also say that some articles in the draft are unclear.

However, Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon declined the request, urging farmers’ representatives to raise concerns directly with the ministry.

The call was made yesterday at Meta House in Phnom Penh. Nhel Pheap, a Takeo province farmer and coordinator of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Communities, who said the draft law had gone through seven revisions by the Agriculture Ministry.

These changes had added greater burdens to the management and use of agricultural land by small-scale family farmers and indigenous people.

He said that if the changes to the law were made, farmers would lose some of their rights. There would be no exemption for small-scale farmers.

Another farmer from Kandal province, Soeung Khan, said their concern was the right to manage their farmland.

The draft law provided greater power to agricultural land agencies to monitor and take legal action against farmers involved in agricultural production.

“But this draft law has agencies to monitor quality. This is strange.”

“Farmers said that this law cannot be accepted. One day, farmers will become slaves on their own land, and they will never progress  from their village.” Svay Peoun, a Kouy an ethnic minority member from Preah Vihear province, said he feared the impact on their traditional and ancestral land when the law is adopted.

The draft would allow the conversion of land into agricultural land or land in agreement, which farmers claim is  similar to economic land concessions.

Mr Sakhon said that the government cannot drop the draft law, which was drawn up after studies of the progress of society, along with the consideration of the benefits for farmers and agricultural land management.

However, he said the ministry welcomed the comments from civil society and representatives of the farmers.

“We will still discuss this law, about which we have not yet made a decision.”

The draft law, with 13 chapters and 121 articles, has been a work in progress since 2010 and is currently in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture for consultation with stakeholders before being sent to the Council of Ministers for approval.

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