Farming or tourism?
It is March 2013. Villagers in Phlung village resist Government new land regulation.
Angkor Wat is the most famous of the many temples in Cambodia. The area around the temples is not only an important national heritage and a place where millions of tourists visit, it is also home to more than a thousand families.
Leang Dai commune is part of Angkor Thom district, Siem Reap province, and all communities here are affected by APSARA Authority preservation regulation. This regulation has for several years stopped villagers from building or renovating houses, or from setting up any kind of chicken cages, pigpens, stalls to run small businesses, etc.In addition, the APSARA Authority plans to build a canal where tourist boats could pass through the Angkor temple area and the different villages nearby Angkor Wat Temple. Phlung village is one among the six villages affected by this regulation in Leang Dai commune.Since the canal digging started by APSARA Authority, twenty-eight Phlung families have not been able to use their farm land for rice fields or grazing land for cows. The government has tried to modify their reason for digging the canal, from a tourist purpose to a flood mitigation purpose. Villagers believe that this turn in the official reasoning is not based on real needs. In the beginning of this process, the APSARA Authority promised to give compensation to those families who would lose their land, but have so far not kept the promise. Farmers have not been given compensation, nor been able to use their land for several years.
Lorm Se, a 42-year old farmer, lives with her husband and 8 children in a small thatch house in Phlung village which is around 20 kilometers from Siem Reap town. She has not been able to use her one-hectare paddy field for the last 3 years due to the restriction by APSARA Authority. The family depends on farming, so she rented one hectare of Chamkar/farm land, about 12 kilometers from her house, for 500,000 Riel (USD 125) per year to grow rice. It is expensive, and also very far away. While the community works to find ways to stand up against the authorities, in the meantime all members of the family have to find other ways to make a living.Like the majority of villagers, Lorm Se’s family has a shortage of food and income.
Sometimes Lorm Se sells her labor. She weeds grass in the mango plantation or collects firewood to get some income (less than 6,000 Riel -approximately 1 US dollar- per day). She borrowed 200,000 Riel from Saving Group that is supported by Banteay Srei to buy a bicycle for going to the paddy field, and more importantly, to carry firewood. Her 19-year old daughter works in a construction site in Siem Reap town. “She gets up at 5 AM in the morning to go to work at a building site in Siem Reap town and returns home around 6 PM in the evening. She works hard every day. I pity her but we have no choice.” Lorm Se said. The communities that have lost land, including Lorm Se, started to work together to demand to get their lands back, or to get a decent compensation. In July 2012, they submitted a request letter with thumbprints. They organized meetings with the APSARA Authority Representative. In July 2012, APSARA Authority announced that community people were allowed to build chicken cage pigpens, and small scale buildings in Leang Dai commune. In November 2012, APSARA Authority agreed to pay USD 0.40 per square meter to 8 families while they initially had proposed to pay only USD 0.20 per square meter to other 28 families in Phlung village.“We want APSARA Authority to pay us USD 0.40 per square meter. We will not agree with USD 0.20 per square meter,”Lorm Se firmly said.“I went with other villagers to meet with Commune Chief and APSARA Authority Representative four times to talk about compensation but they always asked us to wait”she added.
Since 2009 NPA Cambodia has supported Banteay Srei Organization to work with “Women’s Empowerment and Leadership Building” project. In 2012, the project focused on strengthening the capacity of community people, especially women. Banteay Srei encourages people to participate in political decision making. The organization supported communities, especially families in Leang Dai commune who are those who have lost most land. They organized monthly meetings between Commune Councilors and Community Facilitators, a workshop on Decentralization & Deconcentration, on women participation in Commune Investment Plan process, training on women leadership and advocacy, and a workshop on women leadership with different political parties. Banteay Srei Organization will continue to work with families affected by land loss in Leang Dai commune. The aim is to empower communities, especially women to advocate for their right to access to land and fair compensation. Although Lorm Se had low expectations to get the fair compensation from APSARA Authority that they need, she is determined to continue the struggle together with other people in her community. APSARA Authority was created by Royal Decree in 1995. It is placed under the double supervision of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Economy and Finance with the main purpose of Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap.10 Karong is approximately equal to 100 kilograms