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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ASIA: Land grabs threaten food security

It is going to be a big disaster of food in the history happening to the poors in Cambodia due to land robberies and violence that had been robbed livelihoods by the riches and government Elites, and now this their lives are going back to live in Pol Pot regime again.

Land grabbing in Asia
CAMBODIA: Land being leased by Kuwait for rice (in negotiations) 100,000ha rubber plantation secured by Vietnam

LAOS: 100,000ha rubber plantation secured by Vietnam

PHILIPPINES: 10,000ha for agro-fishery secured by Bahrain 100,000ha for Qatar 1.24 million hectares for an unknown company in China (on hold)

INDONESIA: 500,000ha, a $4.3 billion rice investment, secured by Bin Laden Group of Saudi Arabia (on hold)

CHINA: 10 poultry farms worth $300 million and pig farms for $250-300 million purchased by Goldman Sachs of USA

Source: International Food Policy Research Institute

PHNOM PENH, 10 June 2009 (IRIN) - Sam Pov, a rice farmer in Cambodia’s western Battambang Province, is very worried that his land will be taken over by a foreign investor.

"I've heard the rumours about [Kuwait and Qatar]. I heard they might get our land because they need food," he said.

"The commune leaders haven't talked to us yet, and I don't think they will if the time comes. This is a good time for them to get paid and get huge benefits."

Last year, delegations from oil-rich Kuwait and Qatar visited the impoverished nation, eyeing leases on land to export food back home - a move that could leave many Cambodians without enough food, say activists and NGOs.

Kuwait has reportedly offered US$546 million to the Southeast Asian nation in loans for dams and roads, while Qatar will invest $200 million in agriculture.

And while the government has not yet announced what the Gulf States will get in return, they have publicly expressed interest in the country’s farmland.

"Cambodia has plenty of farmland and forests but has been suffering from land grabbing by the government as well as influential people for years," Jin Ju, a food rights activist at the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) , told IRIN from Hong Kong.

"I doubt that [either] government would consider the villagers and farmers as equal decision-makers," she said.


Forced evictions, mostly to build hotels and high-end apartments, have been a problem in Cambodia since the UN peacekeeping force left in 1993.

Adhoc, the Cambodian human rights watchdog, estimates 50,000 people were evicted to make way for development projects in 2006 and 2007 alone.

The problem arose because most land documents were destroyed under the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979, making it unclear who owns what.

Yet the practice in Cambodia of leasing land to Gulf States for farming - and the rate at which the land is being siphoned off - is new, say food rights groups.

"The governments [Kuwait and Cambodia] should select appropriate land through discussion with the villagers, and combine the traditional farming in Cambodia and new technology for farming," Ju added.

Food insecurity

The problem of land grabbing by foreign investors and governments, however, extends well beyond the confines of Cambodia.

Elsewhere in Asia similar examples can be seen, as well as in Africa. According to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), between 15 and 20 million hectares of farmland in such countries have been subject to transactions or negotiations since 2006.

IFPRI estimates the value of such deals at up to $30 billion.

Ever since high food prices in 2007 and 2008 raised the prospect of food insecurity for countries without much farmland, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have scoured Asia for land.

China, which has to feed more than one billion people, is also looking to Southeast Asia to sustain its breakneck growth.

"Not only will it displace small farmers as such investments have done in Indonesia," said Amitava Mukherjee, head of the UN Asian and Pacific Centre for Agricultural Engineering and Machinery in Beijing, "but it will also have serious environmental consequences … [and] given that UAE and Kuwait are leasing land, not buying it, [they] would have no interest in long-term development of the farmland they are seeking access to".

He added that the comments were his own and did not reflect the views of the UN.

In Kamukhaan village in the Philippines, such effects have become well documented, according to the AHRC.

Since a Filipino company took over 613ha in the village to build a banana plantation in 1981 - to supply US-based fruit company Dole - hundreds of villagers have suffered skin and respiratory ailments from pesticide use, the group claims.

"The farmers had lost their farmland, their children, their natural sources, their health and their future," Ju said.

"Now the Philippines' food sovereignty is absent and the self-sufficiency is almost zero," she claimed.

In the Philippines this year, Bahrain secured 10,000ha for agro-fishery, Qatar leased 100,000ha, and an unknown company from China leased 1.24 million hectares, though the deal has been put on hold, according to an April policy briefing by IFPRI.

Such deals are often done in secret, it says, stopping civil society groups from overseeing the terms and defending the rights of local farmers.

In Myanmar, Chinese companies have driven farmers off their land to cultivate an oil plant, according to Welt Hunger Hilfe, a German NGO.

The farmers already faced seasonal changes that threatened food security, but had their last source of food taken from them by the government, the group says.
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Company Seeks To Expand Money Transfer by Phone

By Ros Sothear

As soon as you hear the beeping alert, money has been transferred to your account. That’s because Wing, the first instant transaction service in Cambodia, is up and running.

Wing started in November 2008 and now has around 16,000 customers, mostly students and garment factory workers. The service has been limited because only one moble phone service, Hello, can undertake money transfers.

Cambodia has about 4 million mobile phone users, and Wing is in talks with other companies to extend its coverage.

The Wing service acts like a traditional bank account, but money can be sent via cell phone at a cheaper cost, Wing’s managing director, Brad Jones, told VOA Khmer.

wing allows users to send up to 4 million riel, around $1,000, through mobile phones, with a service charge of one-quarter of a percent.

“The benefit is to reduce a community’s vulnerability,” Jones said. “The end result is a community that becomes a Wing customer that is at much less risk of losing its money and has the ability to send money at a much cheaper cost.”

In Cambodia, money transfers have become necessary among migrant laborers who frequently send money to support their families in rural areas. Very few of them use formal banking services, preferring instead to send money through taxi drivers, friends or relatives, means with high costs and no guarantees.

“It will strengthen the financial system and help economic growth,” Om Seng Bora, head of VisionFund, a microfinance institution partnering with Wing.

Mobile transfer service has operated in many countries in the world and it has become very popular in Philippine, India and Kenya, he said.

“It is amazing,” said Thor Sophorn, an agent at a Wing transfer shop in central Phnom Penh. “It is modern and very easy. We can send money in a minute.”

Wing does face a perception among potential customers that money can be lost in the process, but Jones said the system was based on modern technology and was very secure.

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KRouge defence documents not stolen: court spokesman

By Patrick Falby

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — An investigation at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court has concluded there was no theft of documents from a Khmer Rouge leader's defence team, a tribunal spokesman said Wednesday.

Last week Michiel Pestman, the Dutch defence lawyer for regime ideologue Nuon Chea, said he suspected confidential papers had been stolen from his office after he found them floating among waterlilies in a pond at the court.

But court spokesman Lars Olsen said a tribunal security report had concluded there was no theft in the incident that some local media dubbed "Waterlilygate".

"The main conclusions are clear: there is no evidence to substantiate allegations of foul play or theft of documents," Olsen told reporters at a press briefing.

Olsen said that details of exactly how the documents ended up in the pond would be revealed in the report.

The confidential documents were drafts of a defence letter to the recently appointed head of the court's victims unit, Helen Jarvis, raising concerns about her membership of Australia's Leninist Party Faction (LPF).

Jarvis signed a 2006 LPF statement which proclaimed: "Against the bourgeoisie and their state agencies we don't respect their laws and their fake moral principles."

The defence has said Jarvis's statement indicated she might not respect the rules of the Khmer Rouge court, however tribunal spokesman Olsen said the administration respected her right to have personal views.

"Dr. Jarvis's political affiliations were well known prior to her being made head of the victims' unit," Olsen said.

The troubled tribunal, which is currently trying former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch, also faces accusations of political interference by the government and claims that Cambodian staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

Duch has stated that he took orders to kill and torture from Nuon Chea, who is commonly referred to as the Khmer Rouge "Brother Number Two."

In Wednesday's testimony, Duch spoke about how Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot "cleverly" sought to dismantle the national religion of Buddhism by assassinating abbots and ordering monks to disrobe.

"Pol Pot opposed all religions as a general principle... (But) they never sent anyone to (my) office because of their belief in religion," Duch said.

Pol Pot, the so-called "Brother Number One", died in 1998 before facing justice, and fears over the health of ageing suspects hang over the court.

Others in detention awaiting trial besides Nuon Chea are former head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife and minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith.

The long-awaited first trial has heard Duch, real name Kaing Guek Eav, acknowledge responsibility and beg forgiveness for overseeing the torture and execution of more than 15,000 people at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison.

Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork, torture or execution as the 1975 to 1979 Khmer Rouge regime emptied cities and enslaved the population on collective farms in its bid to create a communist utopia.

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