Thinking Outside the Fence: Exploring Culture/Land Relationships: A Case Study of Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.
Over the past 10-15 years Ratanakiri Province, in the far northeast of Cambodia, has been undergoing rapid land use change. This thesis explores this process, in particular, two countervailing aspects of this. The first is the privatization of the pre-existing communally owned landscapes of forest fallows and swidden agriculture fields for cash cropping (cashews, soybeans, cassava and more recently rubber) by outside farmers and companies. The second is the much slower attempts to secure the lands of Ratanakiri’s indigenous communities through communal land titling. The aim of this investigation is to better understand the links between property rights and land use. I argue that there is a disconnect between the theoretical models which are used to explain the benefits of land privatization for agricultural development, and the impact of these models on the very farmers they are supposed to benefit. The social and environmental impact of these privatization processes highlights the need to question contemporary models of agricultural development based on land privatization and mono-culture. Adjusting property rights arrangements can offer options for developing land uses which are more resilient and better suited to different ecological and social contexts. This is particularly important in forested tropical environments which, as this study shows, continue to be transformed by privatization and ecologically simplified land use models in a context of a changing climate and ecosystem degradation. For this investigation I draw on the field of political ecology and also, given the cultural diversity of this area, on insights from related fields of cultural politics and indigenous research. In order to understand the land related dynamics of this area I look in detail at five villages displaying various impacts and strategies of resistance to the overwhelming change processes underway. I seek to understand the ground level results of land privatization processes underway in this area since the early 1990s. From this study a better understanding of the recent process of land privatization in this area shows that it has been driven more by interest groups manipulating the process in their favour, than by any rational reorganization of land ownership driven by greater land use efficiency. Comparing remote sensing data over time has allowed for differentiating between the new land use regime as a result of privatization and traditional systems. This has highlighted the way the spatial management inherent in traditional governance systems has allowed for resilience and productivity in forested tropical environments. Traditional land use systems found in Ratanakiri also demonstrate that a key foundation for the equitable governance of communal land are methods for dealing with the various interests of the people associated with that land. In contrast, introduced land use systems are much more focused on economic criteria at the expense of social and environmental considerations. As an alternative to land privatisation I consider the process of communal land titling, which has been gaining momentum since the first three communal land titles were issued in Cambodia in late 2011/early 2012. This offers the possibility for allowing a degree of autonomy for local communities to decide how the land will be distributed, used and managed. I argue that there is an ongoing need to explore community based and mixed property regimes, and models of governance to accommodate these. In the final chapter of this thesis I explore some of the dynamic relationships of property which need to be considered when developing models of property rights to fit the context.
Advisor: Nel, Etienne; Malam, Linda
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Geography
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Land tenure; Land privatization; Commons; Property rights; Communal land titling; Culture/Land Relationships; Northeast Cambodia; Indigenous minorities; Traditional governance; Community-based management; Sustainable land management; Forest/Agriculture systems; Political Ecology; Cultural Politics; Indigenous research
Research Type: Thesis