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Farmer's Plea for Justice in Cambodia - The Quest to Quench the Thirst for Rubber

The Rising Demand for Rubber

Rubber is made from the milky white colloidal latex of the rubber plant, obtained by puncturing the bark of the tree for sap collection. This polymer is popular for its high tensile strength translating to resistance from wear and tear and ability to maintain its shape at extreme temperatures. It is also water-resistant and hence has a variety of applications in automobiles, flooring, clothing, adhesives and tubes. Most of these things can be made by synthetic rubber as it simulates most qualities of natural rubber but tires require natural rubber because of their supreme strength. Over 70% of the global supply of rubber goes into making tires for cars, trucks and planes. Seeing the growth potential of rubber, the Cambodian government has been encouraging rubber production in the country. Rubber needs a peculiar tropical climate and is primarily cultivated in South East Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. This decision of the government has come with a heavy cost for the indigenous population. Talong advantage of the fact that the majority of locals did not own paperwork for their property, the government leased land from locals to rubber plantations. The people usually produced rice, cassava and potatoes but now a third to half of their landholding is occupied by rubber plantations. The neighbouring jungles were also razed and people are unable to forage for vegetables and hunt for non-endangered animals like they used to. These farmers belong to the Kachok ethnic group and are now facing trouble in claiming the land which they have nourished with their sweat and blood.

The Government OF Cambodia, BY Vietnam, FOR HAGL

The company taking over this land is Hoang Anh Gia Lai or HAGL. Even though the Kachok and other ethnic groups have lived here for generations, many didn't have state-owned ownership. It wasn't until 2009 that the government created a legal process for indigenous communities to apply for collective land titles. The rush for Rubber in Cambodia began when global prices for natural rubber peaked in 2011. The Cambodian government jumped on this opportunity and hastily leased three-quarters of the country's farmland to mostly foreign companies. Nearly half of the land was turned to rubber plantations without any permission from the people who were dependent on it. People who used this land for farming, grazing their cattle found out only when developers came up to clear it. A sacred burial site was also destroyed, severely hurting the sentiments of locals. It was only through community protests that a fraction of the burial site could be saved.

Waiting for Godot (Justice)

In 2014, 17 villages filed a complaint against the World Bank which was finding HAGL, saying that it funds projects that help reduce poverty in developing countries. But a 2015 report of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that the World Bank-financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations. In 2019 Cambodian judiciary ruled that HAGL must return 1800 acres of land to indigenous 3of the Ratanakiri province, that's less than 2% of all of HAGL's land leased. Still, HAGL refused to return it and last year THACO took over all of HAGL's land leases. THACO sends automobile parts to Kia, BTW, Peugeot and Mazda. HAGL recently cleared the land they promised to return but mined part of a holy mountain referred to as the spirit mountain. Demand for natural rubber is growing around the world and is expected to jump nearly 30% in the next decade. Governments must realise that stealing livelihoods and forcing rubber plantations on citizens cannot be an option. They can only be encouraged by providing economic concessions and an initial boost to the business so that the change is profitable.


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