New ‘Webs of Power’ and Agrarian Transformations in Cambodia: Where are the women?

18 May 2015

In February 2012 Economic Land Concessions granted to private companies in Cambodia totalled 2,033,664 ha., and increased to 2,289,490 ha. by June 2013, covering 63 per cent of the country’s arable land. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows to Cambodia grew by 73 per cent from 2011 to 2012. The country, together with Myanmar and Vietnam, is referred to as one of the ‘emerging bright spots of the subregion’.

The significant rise in private foreign as well as domestic investment has been attributed to a combination of factors including the rise in global demand for natural rubber, the demand for flex-crops such as palm oil and maize and finally exports of food staples, such as rice, to food-importing countries. With over 70 per cent of the population depending on agriculture for their livelihood, the ongoing large-scale acquisition of land is creating a new underclass of ‘landless people who have no stake in society and nothing left to lose’, with reports from the human rights organisation LICADHO of over 400,000 people having been affected by landgrabbing and evictions since 2003.

At the same time, new economic actors, novel coalitions of political and economic interests and new frontiers of land and resources control are being created in a complex scenario where local political elites, classes of landed bourgeois and foreign actors interact and coalesce shaping property and labour regimes, creating ‘new legal and practical instruments for possessing, expropriating, or challenging previous land controls’ and accumulating capital.

This study will analyse the shifts in land control unfolding in Cambodia, and their broader consequences. The implications of the interaction of domestic and transnational regional – Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai - capital investment will be analysed from a gender and generational perspective, focusing on property and labour regimes, structures of accumulation and processes of social differentiation and class formation. This study will also analyse the underlying politics of accumulation looking at the role of mobilization and resistance, political narratives and discourses, and the emergence and role of new actors and elite classes.