Land for my grandchildren : land use and tenure change in Ratanakiri: 1989-2007

Fox, Jefferson
McMahon, Dennis
Poffenberger, Mark
Vogler, John
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Community Forestry International (CFI) and the East West Center
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Like many nations in Southeast Asia, Cambodia faces challenges respecting the rights and culture of its upland dwelling ethnic minorities while pursing national development strategies. Centrally designed planning and economic goals have been prescribed for these remote areas often without recognizing the extraordinary knowledge indigenous communities have of their environment and the special resources they can bring to its further development. As a consequence, public and private sector initiatives for development may fit poorly, or conflict with local needs and management systems, resulting in destabilizing shifts in land-use and tenure systems as well as social systems. Ratanakiri has approximately 250 villages with 100,000 people who live either within forests or within 5 kilometers of them2. Annual population growth of 4 to 5 percent from natural increase and migration, combined with rapidly expanding market penetration, is putting immense pressure on land and forests and fueling a large and illegal land market. As indigenous communities lose control of their lands they are forced to retreat further into the forest, clearing those areas in turn. At the current rate of forest loss it appears much of the forest in Ratanakiri will be cleared in the next decade. During the same period it is likely that half of all indigenous lands in the province will be transferred to outside investors, concessionaires, or Khmer migrants from lowland areas. The alienation of indigenous community lands is and will result in growing social and economic marginalization, while the clearing of natural forests will likely destabilize micro-climatic patterns, affect watershed hydrology, and erode biodiversity. These changes, in turn, may limit the sustainability of any new economic production systems that replace existing land-use patterns (i.e., forests and swiddens). This paper draws on case studies from three communities in Ratanakiri to illustrate both the forces driving land-use and tenure change as well as how effective community stewardship can guide agricultural transitions. The study combines a time series of remotely sensed data from 1989 to 2006 to evaluate changes in land use, and relates this data to in-depth ground truth observations and social research from the three villages. The methodology was designed to evaluate how indigenous communities who had historically managed forest lands as communal resources, are responding to market forces and pressures from land speculators. Krala Village received support from local NGOs to strengthen community, map its land, demarcate boundaries, strengthen resource use regulations, and develop land-use plans. The two other villages, Leu Keun and Tuy, each received successively less support from outside organizations for purposes of resource mapping and virtually no support for institutional strengthening. The remote sensing data indicates that in Krala, over the sixteen year study period, protected forest areas remained virtually intact, while total forest cover declined at a rate of only 0.86 per year. While under mounting pressure, the study finds that some indigenous resource management systems operating in Ratanakiri, like those in Krala Village, have demonstrated a capacity to achieve national goals for sustainable use and forest conservation. These systems respond well to support that is directed towards building local forest management initiatives and supporting traditional communal tenure. The study also indicates that indigenous families are under tremendous pressure to illegally sell community forests and are often manipulated by local officials. Indigenous community forestry presents an opportunity for the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to retain high value natural forests in Ratanakiri, if government, NGOs and donors can find ways to effectively support traditional forest stewardship systems. Such a strategy would support the RGC’s achievement of national forest cover goals while responding to social needs of the province’s predominantly rural population. (Executive summary)
Land use - Cambodia - Mapping, Community forests - Cambodia - Citizen participation, Land tenure - Cambodia, Geographic information systems - Cambodia, Indigenous peoples - Cambodia
Fox, Jefferson M., Dennis McMahon, Michael Poffenberger, and John Vogler. 2008. Land for my Grandchildren: Land Use and Tenure Change in Ratanakiri: 1989-2007. Community Forestry International, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
75 pages
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