This special issue of SPEAK OUT aims to provide in-depth stories from communities asserting their food sovereignty. It is a tool for marginalized communities to speak out on issues that affect their lives and livelihoods. It hopes to raise awareness and seek solidarity actions from the readers.
The people of Preah Vihear province, north of Cambodia are currently engaged in a struggle for their land and life. Sugarcane fields are slowly replacing their communities due to the corporate takeover of Guangdong-based Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co., Ltd., a Chinese agribusiness mainly producing diversified sugar products. In 2011, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) granted it economic land concessions (ELCs) covering over more than 42,000 hectares of land in the province. Hengfu’s landgrabbing is one of the prominent land dispute cases in Cambodia.
Upon the request of the communities, the Ponlok Khmer (PKH), Peoples’ Coalition on Food Sovereignty, International Indigenous People’s Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation, PAN Asia Pacific, and Asian Peasant Coalition organized the “International Fact-Finding Mission (IFFM) to Defend Land and Life against Hengfu’s Operations in Cambodia” to probe the impacts and alleged human rights violations by Hengfu and its subsidiaries. It was held on 8-14 September 2018, with participants from non-government organizations in Cambodia and international grassroots organizations: Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association, Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Organization, Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Association, Coalition of Cambodia Farmers Community, Cambodia Youth Network, Borneo Dayak Forum, Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Federation of Agricultural Workers-Philippines), and Youth for Food Sovereignty. The mission consisted of six delegates from the Philippines, two from Thailand, two from Sabah, and 15 from Cambodia.
The fact-finding team visited and conducted interviews in Preah Vihear covering eight villages – Boh, Breus Ka’ak, Sambo, Chuk Chey, Kaloat, Prame, Srae Preang, and Samraong – identified by the organizers.
The mission’s program is divided into three components: (1) the orientation on Sept. 8 to 9, which included the discussion on Cambodia’s national situation and the sharing of community leaders; (2) the field visit on Sept. 10 to 12 or the actual data gathering; and (3) the validation forum on Sept. 13 to 14 where the findings were presented to the community leaders to verify the correctness of the data gathered. An ocular visit was done in March 2018 for an initial investigation and as preparatory activity.
While a number of independent studies were already done in the past documenting the extent of Hengfu’s abuses and their effects to local life in Preah Vihear, the mission deeply looked into how the landgrabbing was done systematically at the village-level, detailing the socio-economic impacts, and clearly identified the perpetrators. It is a multi-sectoral effort, with remarkable participation of women and youth from different countries with varied expertise – on food, agriculture, land laws, human rights, Indigenous rights, and environmental concerns.