Revealed: the bitter taste of Cambodia’s sugar boom
Sugar may seem innocuous enough, but sweet-toothed Western consumers could be fuelling conflict between poor farming communities and big business with every spoonful. Sam Campbell reports from Phnom Penh
Scrambling to take advantage of the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) treaty, which allows duty-free, quota-free access to Europe for Cambodian goods, Cambodia’s agro-barons are trampling human rights underfoot, according to campaigners. Western companies have been accused of being complicit, seeking out the cheapest sugar, whatever the consequences.
David Pred, executive director of rights organisation Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, which has been investigating Cambodia’s sugar industry, said the sugar boom is having serious consequences for rural Cambodians. ‘We have documented widespread human rights abuses and environmental damage from all the major sugarcane concessions, impacting more than 12,000 people in three provinces,’ he said. ‘The impact on local communities has been devastating. Families have been made landless and driven into destitution and severe food insecurity. Hundreds have been made homeless and haven’t received any compensation.’
Bridges Across Borders Cambodia published a report in September 2010 into the situation, citing forced evictions, seizure and clearance of farmers’ land and crops, destruction of forests, poisoning of local water resources and fisheries, arrests, and harassment of human rights defenders, all connected to the sugar sector.
One compelling example of the damage sugar can do are concessions linked to Ly Yong Phat, a Cambodian senator, agribusiness baron and casino-tycoon. The litany of allegations is staggering, even by Cambodian standards. Testimonials from villagers affected by a 9,400 hectare Ly Yong Phat concession in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district, held under a company named Koh Kong Sugar Co., speak of their desperation. Read the rest on The Ecologist.