Cambodia has long had a difficult mix of resource wealth and weak land governance, a function of its legacy of enduring postwar conflict and neoliberal development policies of the 1990s. Since 2012, however, its government has undertaken a series of self-described ‘deep reforms’ aimed at overcoming the poverty, land conflict, and unequal rural landholdings created during the 2000s, when over 2 million hectares of economic land concessions were allocated to private companies.
This paper, commissioned as part of a Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) ‘learning journey’ on inclusive land governance, inquires whether these reforms constitute durable institutional change, or temporary and calculated forms of social inclusion aimed at managing an increasingly volatile political and economic landscape. We use the example of community forestry in Cambodia’s northeastern Stung Treng province to examine:
- rural land scarcity at the village scale, which is caused by a mix of corporate plantation concessions and land markets involving inter-province migrants and other business interests, and
- regulatory geographies and overlaps among competing state authorities, which are exacerbated by recent reforms.
The study concludes with a set of ‘ways forward’ for SDC and other actors interested in inclusive land governance, both in Cambodia and elsewhere, focusing on the enhancement of tenure-protecting institutions, the cultivation of discussion and debate, cross-sectoral land-related programming, and legal areas for additional possible reforms.