New land use rules seen as threat to poor farmers

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Sor Por Kor land used for commercial development. (file photo)

A civic land rights group has expressed concern for the welfare of poorer farmers after a law change to allow commercial development on previously protected Sor Por Kor land was given the green light by agriculture chiefs.

“The Agricultural Land Reform Office’s revamped rules allow businessmen, investors and non-farmers to make use of land plots which the state had given to low-income farmers to help them make a sustainable living. It, therefore, defeats the purpose of the Sor Por Kor land project,” according to a P-Move statement released on Tuesday.

The Sor Por Kor programme was enacted in 1975 with the aim of distributing degraded forest tracts to poor and landless farmers to harvest crops.

However, the group came out to rebuke the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro) amending the law governing the plots to accommodate their acquisition by commercial developers to use in 12 commercial activities including the construction of apartment buildings, gas stations and food-processing plants.

The group warned that the regulation, which came into effect on Oct 28, could see farmers squeezed out.

“This policy will let the business sector and investors involve the Sor Por Kor land in supply chains. In the end, poor farmers and state land will end up being part of a larger supply chain producing cheap farm goods and services to enrich big companies,” the P-Move statement read.

However, the group admitted that some occupiers had already breached the previous rules.

“We have not turned a blind eye to the reality that someSor Por Kor land has already been turned into community and non-farm areas. So, we do need mechanisms to deal with that,” stated P-Move.

It also urged Alro to make public hearings a legal requirement for all non-farming endeavours and called on parliament to formulate a comprehensive policy on the use of Sor Por Kor land.