A vulnerable ethnic minority village inside Seima Protection Forest this week became one of the first in Cambodia to receive a collective land title. This title will help villagers fend off threats to their land and culture while also strengthening conservation goals. It also forms a key element of the design of REDD demonstration activities at the site.
The Senior Minister for Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, H.E. Im Chhun Lim, visited the ethnically Bunong village of Andoung Kraloeng village to mark this historic moment. The legal system has been piloted in three villages - the first two received titles last December, but the third is the only one in a protected forest and so sets crucial precedents for similar villages elsewhere.
It has taken eight years for these first villages to receive their titles, but with the system now in place the rate of issuance is now expected to rise. Many other villages are eligible nationwide and some have begun the application process, including more than half of the eligible villages in and around the Seima area. Eventually it is hoped to offer this opportunity to all eligible villages. The titles provide security to the village against a range of external threats and also have a special role to play in the REDD process.
Seima Protection Forest is a designated demonstration site under the National REDD+ Readiness Programme. The issuance of land titles by the government to all eligible villages that request them will provide a valuable safeguard of indigenous peoples' rights under a REDD framework, and REDD financing should enable the process to happen more quickly and to a higher standard. The community groups that participate in the process also form an ideal framework for consultation on other aspects of project design, implementation and benefit-sharing. The importance of this work was recently highlighted at an international conference as described at
Northeastern Cambodia is home to many indigenous ethnic minority groups. They experience relatively high levels of poverty and often have a high dependence on natural resources, including forest products. The traditional collective land ownership systems, along with poverty and marginal political status make these communities vulnerable to land grabbing by powerful individuals and companies. The 2001 Land Law enables them to obtain collective land titles which greatly increase land security. The application process also provides a framework for strengthening community technical capacity and social cohesion to address the many threats facing ethnic minorities by establishing and training Indigenous Community Commissions at the village level. Over the years the village committee and elders in Andoung Kraloeng have grown stronger and more effective, and have successfully repelled many attempts by outsiders to grab land and damage other resources in the village, often in cooperation with law enforcement staff linked to the project.
It is also gratifying to note that during the same ceremony five members of the team who worked on this issue as WCS staff or counterparts received medals from the Royal Government of Cambodia in appreciation of their contributions. The staff members were Khun Samana, Men Soriyun, Pet Phaktra, Prak Chanthy and Tom Evans.