Latest Cambodia's Development [Perspectives]: Ms. Dam Chanthy, an indigenous Tumpoun and Director of Highlander Association
What is your view of recent development in Cambodia?
My overall perspective on development in Ratanakiri is that it is going too fast, especially the granting of land concession projects to big companies. I am not opposed to development projects because the government needs to develop in order to generate improvements. But the indigenous people do not have much knowledge of the whys and wherefores of these development projects.
One of the main issues is the lack of consideration for which area to develop and which area to reserve for the traditional use of the indigenous people. Our natural forests are big and full of spirit trees, harvest areas for timber and places to grow vegetables for the community. In many development projects, the indigenous people are not generally given enough information. They do not have the opportunity to participate in the discussion or see to the legality of the agreement. As we all know, the indigenous people’s education level is limited specifically in the Khmer language and the laws related to the issue. At the national level, access to information may be good, but at the local level, it still needs a lot of improvement.
What do you see as Cambodia’s priorities for the next five years?
Education is a fundamental sector to develop. When people are well-educated, they can protect their cultures and traditions and improve their own and others’ livelihood. The Highlander Association has been supporting indigenous youth with their studies by providing students from grade 7 to 12 a place to stay during their school years. Since 2008, we have supported over 300 high school graduates, and some of them have now become village chiefs or are working for NGOs and other institutions. We would like to urge the government, NGOs, donors, and other institutions to provide scholarships to these students to pursue their studies at the university level.
And regarding development projects on indigenous land, whether it’s a rubber tree plantation or a land concession, we propose that the authorities involved undertake a thorough discussion and encourage negotiation between the main stakeholders and the indigenous people involved, with a careful study of the traditions. This must be conducted in the language of the indigenous people to make it possible for all the local people to understand.
Also, we propose to have negotiations and work out agreements with the locals and authorities involved to have reserved areas for the community, as well as traditional and natural forests. If the whole development process is conducted with integrity and clarity among the parties, it will prevent many future problems and both the companies and communities will benefit from the development.
Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam