PHNOM PENH, Cambodia– The looming global food crisis has, in the past years, prompted a phenomenon in the Global South known as land grabbing. This is when families—previous owners and inhabitants of the land—become displaced while the land they have once lived and worked on get converted for commercial uses. The speculation the world will soon face an energy crisis also contributes to the rise of land grabs.
Large companies are buying up plots of land that families use to subsist via growing edible crops and vegetables. After expelling its former inhabitants, the land is then used to grow food, bio-fuel crops and extract water and minerals for the markets of the buyers companies’ countries.
Southeast Asia is one of the regions where the occurrence is acute. In a region where agriculture still plays an important role in the people’s lives, and where millions still rely heavily on the land they own, the problem of land grabs can hardly be overemphasized.
For instance, in Cambodia, at least 41 land grab disputes occurred in 2013. Since 2003, land grabbing has driven more than 400,000 Cambodians off their land. Cases of gross human rights abuses are frequent in the process of land grabbing in Cambodia. This inclused bulldozers tearing through rice fields and villages, barbwire stretched across lands once freely roamed and grazed by water buffaloes and villagers violently thrown off their ancestral lands.
With short or no notices, companies and privileged elites—both foreign and local—inform villagers that their homes are no longer theirs. In 2012, 13 women were sentenced to two and a half years in prison simply for protesting against the expropriation of their land. Many of those evicted possess valid documents to testify their ownership of the land.
What allows the livelihoods of the people who have suffered more than their fair share of history of brutality to be precipitously ripped from them?
Despite the fact that under Cambodian law, anyone living on a piece of land for more than five years is entitled to call that piece of land theirs, eviction is a looming threat for many citizens. This is because the Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law allows the government to utilize all private state land. This is an vague and arbitrary term that lets the government lease up to 25,000 acres to a private company for as long as 99 years.
The expropriation of land and the forced eviction of its inhabitants are not unique to Cambodia. Across Asia, developers are seizing lands from poor people with no legal means to fight to protect their interests. Thus, unless a legal mechanism is established to prevent land grabbing, Asia’s astronomic pace of development will only create an even wider disparity gap.
Lastly, this phenomenon should prompt consumers in the developed world to reflect on how ethical of the current mode of consumption is. Is it ethical to use biofuel?
While it may be create cleaner air and cheaper source of energy in the cities of the developed countries, is it alright to replace the vegetables that people of the developing world need to eat with inedible plants to run our cars? Are the cheap vacations that millions make to the developing regions benefiting the poor of those countries or are tourists simply propelling wealthy capital holders to kick out poor people and “gentrify” their cities?
– Peewara Sapsuwan
Sources: Politico, Spiegel, Oxfam, Farmland Grab, New York Times
Photo: New York Times