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Land grabbing and forced evictions by Koh Kong's sugar industry, Cambodia

How bitter can sugar be: bulldozers clearing lands for giving it away to agrobusiness companies, with the support of the European agreement “Everything but Arms” (EBA)


On May 19, 2006, without any prior consultation, bulldozers started to clear farmers’ land in villages in Botum Sakor and Sre Ambel district, Koh Kong province, and forcefully evicted the formal owners: small-farmers who have been living on the land since 1979 (1). Two months later, the land was awarded to the newly established sugar companies Koh Kong Plantation Co. Ltd (KKPC) and Koh Kong Sugar Co. Ltd (KKSI), both owned by Thai KSL group, Ve Wong Corporation of Taiwan, and Ly Yong Phat, Cambodian ruling party senator and business tycoon. The companies received two adjunct Economic Land Concessions (ELC), amounting to 9,400ha and 9,700ha respectively, to develop industrial sugar plantations and processing factories. The total size of 19,100ha exceeds the legal limit of 10,000ha per company. In January 2010, KKSI opened a processing factory in Sre Ambel and six months later export of sugar to UK giant Tate & Lyle started, who signed a five years contract to buy all sugar output. Since 2010, T&L imported 48,000 tons of sugar, with an estimated value of 24 million €. The investment was strongly motivated by the European agreement “Everything but Arms” (EBA) with least developed countries (LDC) such as Cambodia, offering them access to the European market without tariffs and at a minimum guaranteed price; which for sugar has been three times the world-market price (2).

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Land grabbing and forced evictions by Koh Kong's sugar industry, Cambodia
State or province:Koh Kong province
Location of conflict:Botum Sakor and Sre Ambel district
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The European Union (EU) has supported the sugar industry through the agreement “Everything but Arms” (EBA) with least developed countries (LDC) such as Cambodia. Companies operating in Cambodia can access the European market without tariffs and at a minimum guaranteed price. For sugar, the minimum guaranteed price has been on average three times the world-market price. While the extent of Sugarcane plantations in Cambodia was negligible in 2006, in 2012 it amounted to more than 100,000 ha. Cambodian sugar exports jumped to 13.8 million$ in 2011, 92% of which was exported to the EU (2).

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Project area:19,100
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectunknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:> 2,100 (estimate)
Start of the conflict:19/03/2006
Company names or state enterprises:Koh Kong Plantation Co. Ltd (KKPC) from Cambodia - sugar industry, sugarcane
Koh Kong Sugar Co. Ltd (KKSI) from Cambodia - sugar-industry, sugarcane
Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Public Company Limited (KSL group) from Thailand - sugar-industry, sugarcane
Ve Wong Corporation from China - food industry
Relevant government actors:Ly Yong Phat, ruling party (CPP) senator and co-owner of Koh Kong Plantation Co. Ltd and Koh Kong Sugar Co. Ltd.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC)
Equitable Cambodia
Inclusive development international
Hands off the land Alliance
The NGOS that signed the joint statement supporting the villagers claim were:
- Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC)
- Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
- Equitable Cambodia (EC)
- Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
- Community Peace Network (CPN)
- Building Community Voice (BCV)
- Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
- EarthRights International (ERI)
- Inclusive Development International (IDI)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Boycotts of companies-products
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Air pollution, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsincrease in domestic violence
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Other socio-economic impactsabuse of child labour
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Land demarcation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
One community activist, who documented the land clearing in 2006, was killed. His death has never been properly investigated.
Proposal and development of alternatives:Proposals/recommendations put forward, according to the "Bittersweet Harvest" report (2), released by Equitable Cambodia (EC) and Inclusive Development International (IDI):
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 labour.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project goes on and the killing of one community activist has never been properly investigated.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

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

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

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

(2) 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]

(1) Joint statement signed by Cambodian NGOs in support of the case (accessed 16/02/2015)
[click to view]

(4) News article Cambodian daily (Feb. 3, 2015): Families to Rejoin Protests Against Sugar Farms (accessed 16/02/2015)
[click to view]

(5) Inclusive Development International on the recent EU's commitment to investigate impacts of the EBA agreement (accessed 16/02/2015)
[click to view]

(6) The Guardian - Cambodia's sugar rush leaves farmers feeling bitter at 'land grab'
[click to view]

(3) Earth Rights International on the case (accessed 16/02/2015)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video produced in relation to the Bittersweet Harvest report (accessed 16/02/2015)
[click to view]

The Guardian video on Koh Kong Sugar plantations and UK Tate & Lyle company (accessed 16/02/2015)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) / arnim.scheidel "at"
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1804
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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