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'Blood sugar' land grab by Phnom Penh Sugar Company, Kampong Speu, Cambodia

Economic Land Concessions, militarization, dirty finance and the ironic European agreement “Everything but Arms”; the recipe for forced evictions in Cambodia


Encouraged by Cambodia’s policy to establish large-scale agriculture under the Economic Land Concessions (ELC) scheme, and incentivized by the European agreement “Everything but Arms” (EBA) with least developed countries, Cambodia attracted large amounts of investment into sugar production, allowing the country to export their products at a fixed minimum price and without tariffs to the European Union. Investments attracted in this context, caused some of the most depressing land grab conflicts in Cambodia. Among them are the evictions surrounding Phnom Penh Sugar Co. Ltd.’s sugarcane plantations for the production of what some called “blood sugar” (1;5;7). In February 2010, Phnom Penh Sugar Company (PPSC), owned by ruling party senator and business tycoon Ly Yong Phat, was granted an ELC covering 8,343ha in Thpong district, Kamping Speu district. Another ELC amounting to 9,052ha, located in Omlaing commune, Oral district, was granted to the sister company Kampong Speu Sugar Company (KSSC), owned by his wife Kim Hean. On March 21, Prime Minister Hun Sen further signed a sub-decree to classify 4,700ha in the Oral Wildlife Protected Area as an extension of the concession land granted to KSSC. Both companies, which are closely associated and further belong to the same family, control now more than 23,000ha of ELC land, while the legal limit per ELC is set to 10,000ha (2).

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:'Blood sugar' land grab by Phnom Penh Sugar Company, Kampong Speu, Cambodia
State or province:Kampong Speu province
Location of conflict:Omlaing commune (Oral district) and
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The concession land has been granted under the Economic Land Concession (ELC) scheme of Cambodia, which provides concessions for the development of large-scale agriculture under a lease agreement of up to maximum 99 years. Lease agreements are commonly set for 70 years (see legal ELC framework, below).

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Project area:22,095
Level of Investment:more than 200,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:7000 (estimate)
Start of the conflict:01/02/2010
End of the conflict:27/02/2020
Company names or state enterprises:Phnom Penh Sugar Company Ltd. from Cambodia - sugarcane, agro-industry, sugar, real estate
Kampong Speu Sugar Company Ltd. from Cambodia - sugar, sugarcane, agro-industry
Relevant government actors:Ly Yong Phat, ruling party (CPP) senator, is owner of the Phnom Penh Sugar Comapny Ltd.
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Union (EU) - Through the program "Everything but Arms" -
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) from Australia - banking, finance
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Equitable Cambodia
Inclusive Development International
Hands off Land Alliance
Sugar Justice Network
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Industrial workers
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Boycotts of companies-products
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Air pollution, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Noise pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsexposure to contaminated water streams
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Other socio-economic impactsChild labour
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Land demarcation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Accidents due to lack of work security even led to the death of several persons, killed by cane-cutting machines (2)
Proposal and development of alternatives:Villagers faced already large damages. Inclusive Development International (ID) and Equitable Cambodia (EC) estimated that the damages produced to villagers due to loss of farm land and other issues amounts to 11 million dollar of uncompensated losses (3). The NGOs claim that the villagers need to be compensated by the companies as well as ANZ which supported the project. Villager further require help to establish again their livelihoods.
According to a report (7) by EC and IDI, their recommendations include:
To the EU: that EU should investigate impacts; temporarily suspend EBA trade; verify that producers are not involved in Human rights abuses or environmental destruction; ban import of agricultural goods produced on illegally acquired land.
To the Cambodian Government: Enforce the moratorium on new ELC; assure that the required social and environmental impact assessments are conducted; cancel concessions that violate human rights; support dispossessed families in returning to their land; return illegally granted concession land; and stop state military-backed up evictions, among others.
To the involved companies: Stop forced evictions; stop destruction of community natural resources; stop using violence against people; return illegally appropriated land; stop using child labor.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The project goes on, in spite of devastating impacts on people and the environment. Accidents due to lack of work security even led to the death of several persons, killed by cane-cutting machines (2). However, in 2020, 1,200 affected households were given substantial compensation for their losses.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Cambodia's land law and related regulatory frameworks
[click to view]

2005 Subdecree on Economic Land Concessions (ELC) in Cambodia
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(1) Borras and Franco (2011). Political Dynamics of Land-grabbing in Southeast Asia: Understanding Europe's Role. Transnational Institute.
[click to view]

(7) EC & IDI 2013. Bittersweet Harvest: A human rights impact assessment of the European Union's Everything but Arms Initiative in Cambodia. Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development International (accessed 16/02/2015)
[click to view]

(3) Inclusive Development International on the formal complaint to the OECD about the involvement of ANZ in financing the land grab (accessed 13/02/2015)
[click to view]

(2) Inclusive Development International on the conflict (accessed 13/02/2015)
[click to view]

(5) Inclusive Development International on the EU's decision to revise the "Everything but Arms" (EBA) agreement and its impacts (accessed 13/02/2015)
[click to view]

(8) Sugar company's compensation deals leave families bitter in Kampong Speu (accessed 13/10/2021)
[click to view]

(4) Specific Instance against ANZ (OECD complaint) (accessed 13/02/2015)
[click to view]

(6) Formal response by Phnom Penh Sugar Company Ltd. regarding complaints over the social and environmental conditions of their plantations (accessed 13/02/2015)
[click to view]

(9) Australian Bank to Compensate Cambodian Farmers for Lost Land (accessed 13/10/2021)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Short documentary by Equitable Cambodia/Inclusive Development International on Cambodia's sugar industry
[click to view]

Al Jazeera news report on the case
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) / arnim.scheidel "at"
Last update07/06/2016
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