Open Development Cambodia (ODC) under the Civil Society Support Activity: Cluster Anchor Grants funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Family Health International (FHI 360) supported indigenous peoples to participate in the Conference on Land and Natural Resource Governance which was organized by the NGO Forum on Cambodia in Ratanakiri province on 12th – 13th October 2022. The conference aims to engage with the Royal Government of Cambodia to advance laws and policies related to land and natural resources and to strengthen the implementation of policies, laws, and regulations that are meant to promote land and natural resource governance with a focus on addressing social impacts and protecting natural resources and the environment, as well as the sustainable livelihoods of local communities.
The event was divided into two phases, which began with gathering input from over a hundred local communities, indigenous communities, community protected areas, forestry communities, and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The inputs were used for the panel discussion with the representatives of Ratanakiri, Stung Treng, Kratie, Preah Vihear, Mondulkiri, and Kampong Thom Provincial Governors, Ministry of Interior (MoI), Provincial Departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Provincial Departments of Environment, Provincial Department of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, Provincial Departments of Rural Development, Provincial Departments of Mines and Energy, and private sectors on the second day with a total of 250 people (60 females) participated.
Land and natural resource governor in Ratanakiri province
Economic land concession within the province is granted to 27 companies, of which 10 companies justified the contract, 06 companies are in the process of revising, and 11 companies have not signed the contracts. The business area is 83,785 hectares, with a total investment area of 181,896 hectares. The area that has been cleared is 56,702 hectares, and the cultivated area is 51,067 hectares.
There are 75 indigenous communities recognized by the Ministry of Rural Development, while 85 communities have been recognized as legal entities by the Ministry of Interior. However, only 24 indigenous communities received communal land titles from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction. Systematic land registration achieved 15,691 titles which is equivalent to 10,741 families. Two villages have finished the public announcement, while a village is in progress. Two public announcements on the communal land titling are finished and requesting reclassification for three communities. There are 11 community-protected areas and 36 community forestry, of which 22 have been registered with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (MAFF). There are 14 community fisheries, and all of them have been recognized while two new communities have been established.
Recognize and protect customary land tenure
The community and civil society organizations have identified key challenges to recognizing and protecting customary land tenure. Land that has received the land title or is in processing is not yet secured, and the process is complicated, time-consuming, and costly. The approved land classification does not correspond to actual practice and occasionally overlaps with protected areas because management areas have not been clearly divided. Despite the fact that the land has been registered, indigenous peoples continue to face land grabbing and deforestation. According to the community, the forest crime crackdown is still limited and ineffective. The community committee’s capacity and knowledge are limited and need to be expanded in terms of by-laws and internal rules, while the community’s livelihood and natural resource conservation must be improved.
To address the issues, the communities would like to see strong collaboration between communities and local authorities to strengthen law enforcement with the assistance of district and provincial administrations. The network of community forestry should be established from the national to the commune level. The process of titling communal land should be improved, and the government should provide an annual budget for each community to manage the land and forest while also improving their standard of living. The budget could be used as a community loan for each member. Yet, the results of the suggestions cannot be confirmed.
The second cluster convention was held on 19 December 2022, at the FHI 360 Office in Phnom Penh, with 25 participants (06 females). The convention brought together the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC), the Ministry of Interior (MoI), civil society organizations (CSOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), media groups, and representatives of indigenous people from Preah Vihear, Ratanakiri, and Mondulkiri provinces. Open Development Cambodia (ODC) hosted the convention, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Family Health International (FHI 360) under Cluster Anchor Grant from the Civil Society Support (CSS) Project. ODC is the anchor and collaborates with three cluster members: CamboJA, the Conserve Indigenous Peoples Language Organization (CIPL), and Young Eco Ambassadors (YEA). The project aims to make natural resource management (NRM) more sustainable, inclusive, and participatory by incorporating Indigenous Peoples’ needs and concerns. ODC hosted an initial cluster convention on 13 September 2022 to involve all the cluster members and networks to build the networks, learn from each other, map the significant strategy, and step on further activity on the natural resource management (NRM) advocacy in Cambodia. In this convention, we will update the progress of the indigenous communal land titling in Cambodia, which is a curious and significant topic for today’s talk. The convention aims to: Create a friendly environment for networks to learn and share Keep current updates on the indigenous communal land titling in Cambodia Encourage cluster members and stakeholders to work together. The representative of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) shared the current update on the indigenous communal land titling. Currently, 152 indigenous communities have registered as legal entities with the MoI, while 94 communities have requested communal land titles from the MLMUPC. Due to various challenges and encounters, 26 of these communities were suspended. Some people may be interested in obtaining private land ownership to sell or in obtaining a micro-finance loan. In some cases, the requested land overlaps with natural protected areas and forest cover 2002 established by the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). Currently, 38 indigenous communities in four provinces have received communal land titles totaling 39,342 hectares: Stung Treng (02 communities), Kratie (04 communities), Mondulkiri (07 communities), and Ratanakiri (25 communities). Two more communities are expected to receive communal land titles by January 2023. The convention also discussed the challenges of land titling. The participants had the chance to question ministries and ask for advice to solve their problems. The process of the land tiling is complicated and time-consuming. The land title sometimes cannot be issued and is suspended due to several challenges. Due to the limitations of the indigenous people\'s knowledge of the Khmer language, legislation, and registration procedures, they always find it difficult to obtain land titles without support from the CSOs and CBOs. In some cases, indigenous peoples are unaware of the benefits of communal land titles. Some community members may see the personal benefits as superior to the sharing and wish to withdraw from the community. It meant that they would like to have their private land title. The local authorities sometimes do not reluctant with the indigenous communities regarding the land titling procedures even though the ministries are trying to speed up the land registration. In many cases, the community refuses to accept the land that the government is willing to provide. After the participatory discussion, the indigenous community is encouraged to document the issues or problems with communal land titling and report them to the working group. ODC will continue to host the quarterly cluster convention with the cluster member and networks to share lessons learned, information, and prioritized issues on natural resource management, environment, forestry, land, indigenous peoples, the strategic environmental assessment (SEA), and environmental impact assessment (EIA).
Phnom Penh, 03rd November 2022, Open Development Cambodia (ODC) hosted a Technical Workshop on Environmental Data and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). This workshop was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Family Health International (FHI 360) under Cluster Anchor Grant from the Civil Society Support (CSS) Project and Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS) under Promoting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for a more Transparent and Responsive Environmental Governance in Cambodia Project. The workshop aims to: Raise awareness of the SEA among CSOs, citizen journalists, indigenous people, and researchers. Discuss and share the current statue of the SEA in Cambodia Identify the potential of integrating SEA and its implication in environmental and natural resource management. The event brought together 32 participants (11 females) from the Ministry of Planning (MoP), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Family Health International (FHI 360), other international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), journalists, researchers, and indigenous peoples (IPs). Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Mr. THY Try, Executive Director/Editor-in-Chief of Open Development Cambodia, and Mr. MATHEW Baird, Director of the Asian Research Institute for Environmental Law, have highlighted the differences between EIA and SEA as well as some procedures of SEA. Development projects typically promote economic development, but they should not neglect or ignore the impact on the environment and society. SEA incorporates environmental considerations into policies, plans, and programs (PPP). SEA is used to estimate and evaluate the consequences of specific development PPP. It means that the project is not there yet. The government will decide whether the project could be implemented or invested in that area. It usually happens before doing the EIA. In contrast to the commonly used EIA, which occurs after the decision-making process, SEA occurs before all important decisions, which offers significant advantages. It was initially promoted to fill gaps in project-based EIA due to the limitation of EIA to address the environmental policy integration at the strategic levels, particularly during policy and plan-making. The capacity of EIA to account for the strategic consequences of subsequent projects in a single area is limited. As a multi-stage process focusing on overall sustainability, SEA takes a proactive approach to all development activities, identifying key obstacles before final approval. Public participation is the key point, and it must be included in both SEA and EIA processes. EIA and SEA complement each other. It does not mean that we can ignore one of them. Mr. THY Try also demonstrated a video about the UNECE SEA Protocol, which was created by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as part of the EU-funded program “Greening the Economies in the European Neighborhood.” The protocol establishes clear and transparent procedures for incorporating environmental and health concerns into national development plans, programs, and legislation. Spatial Plan and its Integrated Landscape Approach Mr. SENG Teak, Country Director of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), presented one of the significant implementations called the “Mondulkiri Provincial Spatial Plan.” He highlighted the 2040 scenario-based analysis for the province divided into three scenarios: conservation, green economy, and business-as-usual. The first scenario, “conservation,” could keep the forest cover in Mondulkiri up to 85% by mainly protecting all forests inside and outside the protected areas (PA) and using non-forest areas for agricultural and development areas. The second scenario, “green economy,” only protects the forest in the PA, whereas the forest outside the PA and non-forest areas are used for agricultural development areas. By doing so, the forest cover in the provide will remind 53% by 2040. In the last scenario, “business-as-usual” will not enforce forest protection, and the forest cover will remain at only 34%. In brief, the second scenario is used for the spatial plan for Mondulkiri and will be adopted shortly. The spatial plan is critical because it has the potential to provide effective development principles and tools for informed decision-making and spatial development processes to promote balanced territorial development. The planning could be done by following significant steps, including establishing a multi-stakeholder platform, building a shared understanding, collaborative planning, implementing, monitoring for adaptive management and accountability, and shaping the context. The potential of SEA Integration and its Implication on Natural Resource Management H.E. NOR Vanndy, Director of the Economic Statistics Department, National Institute of Statistics, Ministry of Planning (MoP), and Mr. TEP Sakmakara, Deputy Chief of Office of the Department of Economic Statistics, MoP, highlighted how the ministry addresses the environmental data and issues in the development plan. Integration of environmental issues in the development plan is the initial stage, and the country should do it. Environmental issues are considered to include in long-term and medium-term development plans such as National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) and Sector Development Plan. It was observed that the integration of the environmental issues in the previous NSDP (2014-2018) is less and not paid much attention. Therefore, the government has considered and added more environmental issues to the new NSDP (2019-2023). Chapter 4 (4.42) of the NSDP (2019-2023) “Promote the inclusion of strategic environmental assessments in the decision-making process, policies, plans, and legal documents to ensure the sustainability of the environment and natural resources.”
On 08 February 2023, ODC organized the “Indigenous Peoples Sectoral Advisory Meeting” with the partners, including Conserve Indigenous Peoples Languages Organization, MyVillage Cambodia - MVi អង្គការ ភូមិខ្ញុំ, Forests and Livelihood Organization FLO, Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association-CIYA, and FHI 360 to identify the challenges, activities, roles of the group, and call for new members. The project is funded by USAID Cambodia through FHI 360 under Cluster Anchor Grant from the Civil Society Support (CSS) Project.