Since 2002, when all forest management concessions were suspended, the Cambodian Government has moved to granting
Economic Land Concessions to private companies, primarily for the development of agro-industrial cultivation of crops such
as rice, cassava, rubber, acacia and agro-fuels. These plantations are intended to not only generate state revenue and
develop intensive agricultural activities, but also reduce poverty by promoting local employment opportunities. However from
the very beginning these large-scale plantations have failed to adequately meet these objectives and as a result, the
Government has been under pressure to better regulate and monitor their operations.
The legal framework governing Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) centers on the 2001 Land Law and the 2005 ELC subdecree.
They include requirements for the contracting and monitoring of operations, provide for protection of the rights of local
communities living around these plantations and prevent environmental impacts. They also include penalties for companies
found not complying with these requirements. However, many concessions have been granted in violation of this legal framework, have had severe impacts on local communities, and have failed to meet to the promise of economic benefits.(1)
One reason for these problems was the lack of transparency during the contracting process and lack of accountability once
the companies began operations. Under pressure from donors and civil society, the Cambodian Government agreed in June
2007 to establish and regularly update a public log-book of ELCs granted across the country. This log-book intends to make
public the records of the ownership, location, status and operations of each concessionaire and is hosted on the website of
the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. In addition, the Government pledged to review a small number of
concessions which were granted above the maximum 10,000ha size limit and place greater priority on ensuring companies
operated in compliance with Cambodian Law.
However, a review by NGOs working on land and natural resource management issues found that by November 2008, progress to improve transparency and accountability through these measures had been very disappointing. The public logbook had not been regularly updated, especially in terms of information relating to provincially authorized concessions. There
are contradictions in the data currently available – between the different sections of the website, and with information
circulated by other Government Agencies. Additionally, the concept of a “public log book” has been interpreted by the
Government to be an English-language, internet-based medium, which is inaccessible to communities affected by these
plantations who are in most need of this information. A log-book which is genuinely “public” would be available in Khmer
language at the local level, in a non-electronic format.
The progress to improve operations on the ground has been even more unsatisfactory, according to NGOs. Of the nine ELCs
listed in the public logbook as being larger than the legal limit, only 2 have been reduced so far. Three other companies are
refusing to re-negotiate their contracts. In the meantime, the Government has continued to grant ELCs which are larger than
the maximum size limit. In April 2008, Kenertec Co. Ltd, a South Korean company was given a concession for 6 times the
legal limit for agro-fuel production and processing. In September 2008, the Governor of Stung Treng Province publicly
endorsed the intention of Greensea Industry Company Ltd to expand agro-fuel production across its concession, which is
more than ten times the maximum legal size limit.
NGOs working on land and natural resources continue to receive complaints from local communities about ELC companies
which violate the law and agencies of the Royal Government of Cambodia failing to sanction those breaking the law.
Contracts are issued before the land has been legally registered and as a result many concession areas include land lawfully
possessed by local farmers. NGOs are not aware of any cases in which a company has adequately consulted with local
communities or conducted a comprehensive Environmental and Social Impact Assessment before the concession is granted.
Many ELCs violate provisions in the Cambodian legal framework which guarantee indigenous people’s traditional use of
forests and protect their communal land. One company with a pending ELC application for a 10,000 ha rubber plantation in
Mondulkiri province is alleged to be forcing indigenous people in the neighboring commune to “rent” their land to the company
for between $25 and $250 for up to 99 years. Some community members even reported being forced to sell their land to
the company for this amount. The transactions are alleged to be arranged by local policemen who informed villagers that if
they didn’t agreed to this offer, the company would take the land anyway. This case is not considered to be an isolated
example; intimidation of local people is seen around the country.
In preparation for the annual meeting between the Cambodian Government and its Donors, NGOs compiled the following
recommendations for change required during the next 12 months which will genuinely improve the transparency and
accountability of the governance of agro-industrial plantations:
§ Update the public logbook on a quarterly basis and make the information available in Khmer language at the local
level to communities affected by ELCs;
§ Cancel all concessions which have not met the requirements of the sub-decree (which states that, before a
concession can be granted, the land must have been registered, Environmental and Social Impact Assessments and
public consultations must have occurred, and resettlement issues resolved);
§ Clarify the legal basis on which the three remaining oversize ELCs are able to continue their operations and release
all information relation to the revision procedures, especially the results of public consultations with affected communities. Ensure that these ELCs don’t move forward until these issues are addressed.
Cambodian Civil Society has successfully used these Government-Donor meetings in the past as an opportunity to influence
policy. However, the changing Government-Donor relationship resulting from new bi-lateral aid agreements between
Cambodia and its regional neighbors is challenging this status quo. The question for NGOs concerned about the future
governance of land and natural resources is how to engage with these “emerging donors” whilst maintaining relationships with
traditional donors and at the same time creating opportunities for dialogue with the concessionaires themselves.
By Megan MacInnes, Land and Livelihoods Programme Advisor, The NGO Forum on Cambodia, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
 NGO Forum (2005) Fastwood Concessions: Economic Concessions and Local Livelihoods in Cambodia: field investigations in Koh Kong, Kampong Speu, Pursat, Mondulkiri, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces. Environmental Forum Core Team, Phnom Penh, August 2005; UN-OHCHR (2007) Economic Land Concessions in Cambodia: a human rights perspective. UN Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; NGO Forum (2007) NGO Position Papers on Cambodia’s Development in 2006: monitoring of Joint Monitoring Indicators and Implementation of National Strategic Development Plan 2006-2010. Phnom Penh, June 2007.
 NGO Forum (2008) NGO Position Papers on Cambodia’s Development in 2007-08: monitoring of 2007 CDCF Joint Monitoring Indicators and the National Strategic Development Plan 2006-2010. Phnom Penh, November 2008.
 Diokno, M (2008) The Importance of Community: issues and Perceptions of Land ownership and Future Options in 5 Communes in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. NTFP-Exchange Programme and NGO Forum on Cambodia, Phnom Penh, October 2008.