In addition to prepared speech in the dissemination workshop on National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition (NSFSN) Samdech Techo made comments on a number of issues:
Percentage of People Living Below Poverty Line
In addition to the prepared text, I wish to say a few things in relation to issue of nutrition and the overall development of our country. It is true that we have bright down the poverty rate of Cambodia at 100% in 1979 to a little below 19% now. We can quantify how many of the 15 million people still live under the poverty line. There is this issue of how many people who live barely above the poverty line while there is a high risk that those who already came out of poverty would fall below the poverty line again for fact of natural calamity or other factors. In 2008, the year when financial crisis and economic downturn started, we had concern that those who already came above of poverty line would fall back in. In that same time, we also had one heavy seasonal Mekong flood after the other. These difficulties have put us in a challenging position to guarantee that our people would deprive of everything. We gave it serious efforts.
Climate Change, US and China Involved in Nutrition
There are many objective factors including also issue of climate change, for which we have to adapt to a new state of the weather condition. I would like to take this opportune moment to express my sincere thanks and appreciations to various partners. We also have the presence of Ambassador William Todd of the United States of America. We have noted with thanks the USAID involvement in various levels on nutrition and active participation and action with other partners. Her Excellency Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China is also here with us. The PRC also involves in various actions in augmenting food security in Cambodia by means of providing capital in the construction of infrastructure, which definitely has positive impacts on farming too.
Cambodia’s Remaining Potential
There was a time I took a flight on a helicopter with former President of the Asian Development Bank , now the President of the Central Bank of Japan, on our way from Phnom Penh to Poi Pet town at the Cambodian Thai border to oversee the rail section. I told him area underneath our flight is the remaining Cambodian potential. He was stunt as beneath us is land in dry season and there does not seem to have even grass. I told him all we needed is water. For area where we cultivate only once a year, and in short of irrigation too, if we were to resolve the water need for irrigation, we would be able to double or triple our cultivation. That is our potential.
I enlightened that we are working on 2.4 million hectares of rainy season rice. We can provide somewhat irrigation to about half of this area only. As of the recent lack of rain, it has been hard for us to find water sources in the provinces of Kompong Speu, Takeo and Kompot to save some rice cultivation. As you can see, we have been dealing with drought on one side and flood on the other.
From Extensive to Intensive Development
The objective of moving from extensive to intensive development is still the goal of the Royal Government. What do I mean by extensive and intensive development method? In the past, it was our pattern of thought that in a family of five, they needed to have one hectare of land to cultivate. When the family members increased to ten, they would need two or three hectares of land. We cannot go on with this trend anymore otherwise we would have our forest anarchically transformed into rice field. This pattern of cultivation would require more labor and output have always been incommensurate. Normally, one notes that their labor and capital investment into cultivation of that sort always meet with losses.
Our solution here is to change from extensive farming to intensive one. It means we must increase feeding capacity of available land. If we feed five people with one hectare of land cultivation, we should do so for ten or 15 people. This would require use of latest agricultural and agronomic technology. It is still important to take irrigation as a priority. If we were to compare with neighboring countries, Thailand on one side and Vietnam on the other, their soil has been working without a break. They plow land preparing for another crop behind their harvest. In Cambodia, our soil works only four or five months in a year. For the rest of the year, it is just pasture for animals.
Land Title of Economic Land Concession, Tiger Skin-Like Land Situation
As far as land settlement is concerned, providing land title or more land from the economic land concession must be promoted seriously and conscientiously. I still demand relevant institutions and sub-national level authority to work hard on this. Often, I learnt of some of the problems from the press. People came to my house holding my picture and that of my wife. Whether the local authority resolve this matter is the question. One time in Kratie, the press wrote about the case and I knew about it from passing by, I called immediately to find out what happened. Finally, they have resolved it.
In the most recent Cabinet meeting, I already said there is no need to wait for recommendations from Prime Minister. Each ministry has its own organic law and sub-decree on the organization and functioning. They should not wait for Prime Minister to recommend what to do. I hear that people are on their way from Kratie to protest on land issue. It seemed that their lands have been measured by the volunteer youth already but for any reason they have not got their land titles yet. Where is the Kratie provincial authority on this matter? Why do they allow protesters to come all the way to Phnom Penh?
When the news came to me, I first called HE Bin Chhin and then I called my own son, Hun Manith, who is a member of the Land Dispute Resolution Committee (LDRC). My question was if the matter had not been solved, why they did not move quickly to resolve the case. They then resolved one case. Now, another group of protestors comes. These problems arisen from what I used to mention about the zebra or tiger skin situation. They could have found what I was talking about both in the meeting and public statement concerning dispute in the case of economic land concession.
It has always been my position that investors can choose between making and leaving their investment concerning the provided land size of concession. If they stick to, says, 5,000 hectares in one piece, they may reconsider their investment as they wish. Let me remind you on the tiger skin-like situation that we have made it clear in the letter of notification that every investment should halt their action when it comes to dispute with people. In area where there is land dispute, should the land not cultivate yet, it is then people’s land. I have said it on many occasions already that so far we have managed land according to the map. They carry their map around looking for land in forest coverage. Finally, I handed out land titles to people in the marked “forestland” area.
Deputy Prime Minister HE Sok An and former Agricultural Minister HE Chan Sarun went with me to Takeo province. On the map, the land was marked as forestland. When we were there, there was no such thing as forest. It was all rice and cashew nut fields. That is why I said we have managed so far land on the map. It was for the same reason that I trimmed the state land where people occupied, including the ones with court order to confiscate, and give them back to the people. In the CPP’s meetings, I even said “those land belong to no parents of yours.” I would urge concerned officials once again that dispute happens in any one province, is provincial authority must take up responsibility.
If People Cannot, Why Can Investors
If any problem arising from land concerned with companies, we must look for objective factors. When people come to occupy certain land, it is not yet a legal occupation. They cleared forest on various spots that we marked on map as forestland. While we cannot give land marked as forestland to the people, it turns out that we can offer them in concession to investors. That is where injustice lies. While it is marked as depleted forestland area that they cannot give out to people but to investors, I would also oppose if I were in the opposition. People settled on those lands for four or five years already. We do not give them right to legally own the lands. Meanwhile we offer the same type of lands to investors. Please think about it. You are senior citizens and intellectuals.
Let me remind a story, in 2000 or 2001, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries made a recommendation to me in relation to the teak forest that was partly destroyed in between 1970 and 1975 and later depleted completely when people claimed land and removed those teak to build their houses. They grew other long-term crops in replacement of teak, settled with newly built homes in the areas. The Ministry recommended that the Royal Government take back the teak plantation area. I did not agree with the idea. I wrote back “please go plant teak in the reserved area for people to resettle to.” It was not yet the time of HE Chan Sarun as Minister of Agriculture.
Winning Will Gain Land, Losing Will Gain Cash
As it has been a repetitive case, I have had to speak about it again. If the land provided as concession to investors infringes upon land belonged to the people, any resolution to the dispute must give priority to the people. In every land dispute case, it is not always true that people concerned are right. There have been various moves in strategy of winning will gain land and losing will gain cash. In some places, applying this strategy, sometimes people built 200 cottages and protected them with photos of Prime Minister and his wife. Sometimes they even used the picture of HM the King. I would urge those belonged to this case to seek land from social land concession program.
I am calling on concerned authorities to move swiftly in their work and responsibility. They should not stay idle or use force to prevent people from coming and diverting them to a different direction. (As for the above matter) the people’s petition does not reach me. I strongly urge HM Im Chhun Lim to take the lead in this matter.
Company-Local People Inter-Relatedness
In Tumring, Kompong Thom in 2008, I talked a lot about inter-relatedness between companies and local people. I made it clear there would be benefits for every party if people in the region have the chance to use infrastructure in and around the invested areas. I even talked about job integration. For instance, let us take the sugarcane farm for example. People who own land in the farm area would grow sugarcane and sell them to the sugar factory. That is harmonious. Those people would serve as laborers in the factory too. The company and people would well complement each other. However, that has not been the case. A controversial case brought us to problems.
If anyone is not up to the task or would not be interested in working, they may want to resign. Let me reaffirm the priority for the people who have settled in one place for a long time already. If they came in for a short time only, we have reason to control the issue otherwise we would have no public land left. I hope the US would not support those who claim public land like parks. I am resolving this for no one but for the people. Some lands given to investors have not been under any cultivation. They risk being deprived and returned to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, not to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Returned land will be for social land concession for people who need land for cultivation. It should serve the purpose of improving food and nutrition and poverty reduction through higher productivity. I seem to have spoken a lot but I cannot hold it any further. As we have everyone here, including also provincial heads, I think it is good to talk about it. I am urging you to resolve the issue. If protestors would continue to come to Phnom Penh without relevant provincial authority awareness and/or effort to resolve the case, I think there are many more who would like to have the post of provincial governors.
Therefore, it is my recommendation that every province take the responsibility setting up their dispute resolving mechanism in such a way that no matter is left unattended. They should not be idle and standing still. Let me remind that we have between 18% and 20% below the poverty line but there is also a risk that those slightly above the line could have fallen back in again. Our issue is serious. If you do not take swift action, it will continue to be like this. Let us make combined efforts.
National Assembly Leadership Election, Educational Reforms
Some of you have talked about deadlock. I did not see any as I continued to work here. I wish to send out a message though on why it is late to go about electing the National Assembly leadership. Today, President of the National Assembly is on his official visit to foreign country. Next Tuesday, there will be an election. I would reassure that the Cambodian People’s Party will implement its promise to vote to elect candidates from the CNRP. For me, I do not see any deadlock.
As far as the secondary school exam this year is concerned, we are picking up the process of reforms. This year, the rate of passing exam would be around 30% only compared to over 80% from the previous years. A strict measure had been in practice to combat irregularity in every exam. We have decided to allow a retest on October 13. Along with this, we also have one more thing to change in education. Every year, our school day starts on October 1. At that time, some of the schools in some places could be under flood, still. Therefore, it is important for us to change the school day of next school year to start at the later part of October or early November. We will have to maintain same learning period – nine months.
We must take a new approach to prevent our students from lethal accidental risks. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports must come up with a new school year calendar. We will have it in the national calendar year. We have to steer the calendar away from a few national events./.