Cambodia has faced significant challenges concerning land disputes and evictions. Two of the tools from which such problems are derived are Social Land Concessions (SLCs) and Economic Land Concessions (ELCs). Social Land Concessions (SLCs) is a legal mechanism that transfers private state land for social purposes such as establishing residences and/or to generate income through agriculture . Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) is a long-term lease allowing to clear land to develop industrial agriculture . Besides causing land disputes and evictions, they are also a major environmental concern as forested land is being cleared for plantations.
There is no strong mechanism to ensure the social and environmental sustainability of SLCs or ELCs. In the absence of adequate environmental and social assessments, some locally initiated SLCs could have been granted illegally. Conflicts concerning ELCs and SLCs may have derived from similar situations, as authorised land is sometimes granted over areas in which people already reside.
The ‘White Paper’ on Land Policy stated that many land disputes arise due to shortcomings in land registration and poor administration, which has led opportunists and powerful people to encroach on state/vacant lands. In Cambodia, cooperation of certain authorities and law enforcement on land is still limited .
Key policies and governance approach
The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) was established to govern and administer issues related to land management and administration in Cambodia. The MLMUPC is supported by provincial and municipal departments across the country .
Providing sustainable and secure access to land and natural resources for small agricultural producers and rural communities is an integral part of the Government’s poverty reduction strategy. To implement this, the government has established a legal framework for Social Land Concessions (SLC) that expands land titling for the landless rural poor. The government has also promoted Indigenous Communal Land Titling (ICLT) to enhance tenure security for indigenous people over their lands .
The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) in 2001, adopted the Land Law, providing the foundation for Cambodia’s current land reforms and introducing important new provisions such as those related to land registration and indigenous land rights. The Land Law is supported by a large body of sub-decrees, prakas (declarations), circulars and decisions, which add detail and set out specific implementation processes.
In 2001, the Government also issued a new statement on land policy. The broad objectives were to strengthen land tenure security and land markets and prevent or resolve land disputes; manage land and natural resources in an equitable, sustainable and efficient manner; and promote land distribution with equity (i.e., Social Land Concession). To achieve these objectives, the Government established the Land Administration, Management and Distribution Programme (LAMDP), implemented by the MLMUPC.
In 2012, the Government issued a new ‘White Paper’ on Land Policy that aims to promote land use, land management and natural resource management for sustainable and equitable socio-economic development. The RGC has reaffirmed its commitment to the ‘White Paper’ on Land Policy in both the third phase of the Rectangular Strategy Phase III and the National Strategic Development Plan (2014-2018).
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
Historically, the lack of an established land ownership and recording system has been a pressing issue in Cambodia. In the 1990s, titles for land ownership on private land were issued for only around 25% of the land, and even a Land Law established in 1992 did not allow land ownership in rural areas, only "possessory rights". Similarly, there has been very poor management of public land records in the country. "Apparently the state does not know the amount, location and boundaries of the land that falls under ‘public land' much of which would not be surveyed, mapped or titled either” .
Lack of clear rights to land has led to widespread destruction of natural resources. In many areas, forests and fisheries are under the control of no-one, and are being exploited for short-term gains. Entities that have been granted forest and fishing concessions do not feel sufficiently secure to manage them sustainably for the long-term benefit of the country .
In recent years, progress has been made in issuing land titles to Cambodian citizens. By end of 2018, the RGC provided 5,127,819 land titles equivalent to 73.25% of the 7 million quotation mark. Registration of land of indigenous communities reached 24 communities equivalent to 2,558 families .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Since 2008, the World Bank’s LASED and LASED II projects have supported the SLC program to successfully pilot a more sustainable and transparent process of land allocation to poor people. These projects have also supported the development of rural roads, small irrigation systems, primary schools, and health posts, provided training on agricultural improvement techniques, and supported the establishment of expanded services for farmers. Through these two projects, Cambodia has allocated 17,000 hectares of residential and agriculture farmland to more than 5,000 landless and land-poor families, and 3360 families have already received land titles.
In 2020, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a $93 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) for the Cambodia Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development Project III (LASED III). The project will help improve land tenure security and access to infrastructure and agricultural and social services for landless and poor smallholders and indigenous communities in Cambodia. LASED III will cover 71 sites and communities in all provinces in Cambodia except Phnom Penh. The project will support building rural roads, small-scale irrigation systems, water supply and sanitation facilities, school buildings, teachers’ houses, health posts and community centers. New SLC beneficiaries will receive assistance for their first-year crops, including seedlings.
The project will also provide technical assistance to implement climate-smart agriculture techniques, establish farmers’ organizations for production and marketing activities, and manage community funds to scale up local economic activities .
Goals and Ambitions
The MLMUPC has formulated a plan for the improvement of land management that includes developing legal documents and guidelines; promoting public awareness on “Construction Law” widely to sub-national level, entrepreneurs, students, and technicians; promoting land registration to 800,000 land parcels in 2021 and finalizing total land registration of 7 million parcels accordingly. The plan will also promote the State Land registration of ELCs of 67 companies and register 10 land user communities land .
- Stronger and more workable policies or mechanisms regarding SLCs are needed to reduce the ensuing land disputes.
- The task may also cover capacity building of local authorities in evaluation and management skills.
- Meanwhile, “Order 01” needs to be strongly implemented in relation to ELCs as these concessions are thought to be a major dispute factor.
- Unsatisfied ELCs should have extracted economic value which is more beneficial to local communities.
- International partners should share expertise experience in such cases for transparent use of that land and the capture of land value for public infrastructure investment.
- Technical support in the process of public/private land registration is needed and may link to a workable dispute solving mechanism. This would help to speed up the registration process for current and further phases.
 OpenDevelopment Cambodia. [Online]. Available: https://opendevelopmentcambodia.net/topics/social-land-concessions/.
 OpenDevelopment Cambodia. [Online]. Available: https://opendevelopmentcambodia.net/topics/concessions/.
 OpenDevelopment Cambodia. [Online]. Available: https://opendevelopmentcambodia.net/topics/land-policy-and-administration/.
 World Bank (2020). [Online]. Available: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/06/26/cambodia-93-million-project-to-improve-land-tenure-security-for-poor-farmers-indigenous-communities.
 The Phnom Penh Post (2019). [Online]. Available: https://www.phnompenhpost.com/post-property/government-pushes-land-registration-2021.