cambodia, question

Maps of Primitive Accumulation in Cambodia, via Land Concessions: and an argument?

An article in today’s Phnom Penh Post announces that the Kingdom’s Arable Land All But Gone, according to a report by AdHoc, and as a direct result of the vast practice of Economic Land Concessions, which I associate with Primitive Accumulation. In order to make clear what I mean by that, compare this quote from AdHoc, with the description of the enclosure movement in England (the primary example of Primitive Accumulation):

Exploratory mining concessions had been included in this calculation, he said, because while firms granted these rights did not technically own the land, they acted like it in practice by erecting fences and expelling villagers from the area.

Here’s a wikipedia article on the English Enclosure movement.

Now, I’m not a geographer, so haven’t been able to really sort through this other map, created by someone at the MangoMap weblog, with the title “Lies, Damn Lies, and Maps,” which seems to be somewhat critical of this original map (?) and attempts to correct it.  I’d love to hear from those with more knowledge, what this is supposed to represent:


4 thoughts on “Maps of Primitive Accumulation in Cambodia, via Land Concessions: and an argument?

  1. Jonathan Padwe says:

    Hi Eric,

    One friend who works on these issues in Cambodia posted his exasperation with the Mango map on Facebook. In his post (exhaustive, by FB standards), his frustration with the inaccuracies of both the “end of farmland” and the “it’s all lies” dichotomy is palpable. In fact, the Mango post identifies some important considerations in the way the problem is represented in the literature, the press, and on maps. However, the story the Mango map seems to tell is that Cambodia’s productive land is its intensively cultivated lowland, the site of fixed-field inundated rice agriculture, and that this “arable” land is not being claimed by concessions, while, conversely, the green area is forested because people have chosen not to use it. That’s not true, owing in large part to divergent opinions about what “arable” means. The word “arable” comes from the Latin “to plow”, and is a wonderful example of the way we understand tilled agriculture as the only productive use of land. Plenty of land that does not qualify as “arable” is providing a livelihood to many people in Cambodia. The question of what qualifies as “forest” and the way that it gets painted dark green on those maps requires interrogation, too. Where the satellite says “forest”, local people say “fallow”, or “under management” — they use resources on that land, and make numerous claims to ownership and historical residency there. Local claims are invisible on these maps, while the lines written by state agencies and concessionaires are increasingly being concretized.

    Ian Baird has written about this in his dissertation, and I covered some of the same ground in mine. Here’s part of what I wrote:

    Concessions for agricultural and other purposes had been awarded under various laws throughout the 1990s, and in 2001 a new land law formalized the process, including a stipulation that concessions are not to exceed 10,000 hectares in size. In fact, many of the concessions granted to date do exceed that size (the Pheapimex concession in Pursat and Kampong Chhnang Provinces alone is over 300,000 hectares), and in many cases the companies obtaining the 99-year leases on these lands have not paid any rent to the government for the use of the land. By 2003, the total amount of land granted in economic land concessions was over 800,000 hectares, an amount that would represent nearly 4% of the country’s land area if the concession areas were mutually exclusive.

    This figure represents a reduction from the high of over 900,000 hectares in 1999. In a widely cited figure, the influential UN land concessions report (* page 3) indicates that

    “Cambodia’s total territory is 18.1 million hectares of which 6.5 million hectares is considered arable and up to 2.7 million hectares reasonably productive. Between 1993 and 1999, the Government conceded over a third of the most productive territory to private companies for commercial development including for forestry, agriculture, mining, tourism and fishing. It also handed over land to the military to develop. Today, about 2.7 million hectares of land are under concession management, down from a peak of around 8 million hectares during the 1990s.”

    The 2.7 million hectares figure is provided only once in the report, and must include forestry, mining and other concessions, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive on the same piece of land. If, as the report suggests, on Cambodia’s 18.1 million hectares of land area, “6.5 million is considered arable land and up to 2.7 million hectares reasonably productive,” and at the same time “2.7 million hectares of land are under concession management,” then according to the report an area of land roughly equal to the total amount of productive agricultural land in the country was under concession in 2004. [I go on to take issue with the way this is represented, along the lines presented at the beginning of my comment here, — i.e., the 2.7 million under concession is not the same 2.7 million that is considered “arable”, but in any case the category “arable” is deceptive].

    *UNCOHCHR. 2004. Land Concessions for Economic Purposes in Cambodia: A Human Rights Perspective. Phnom Penh: United Nations Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Some other resources about this issue can be found at:]

    An example of how it plays out, in one instance, at

    A writeup of the famous South Korean purchase of land in Madagascar, in line with the “global shortage of farmland leads to large purchases abroad” sort of story (there have been some indications that Cambodia is considering doing similar deals):

  2. This is enormously illuminating, Jonathan. Thanks so much. Encourage your friend to post his comments here, please! Maybe we can encourage the Mango folks to engage as well.

  3. Jonathan Padwe says:

    Sorry – brief follow up. The Mango Map blog post raises useful questions about the portrayal of crisis in the Phnom Penh Post story and Licadho statement, and brings up the questionable nature of “arable”, too. But the Mango Map map also leaves off a lot of the enclosures that are evident in the original Licadho map — mostly parks, but also some various types of economic concessions.

    Also, I think the primitive accumulation argument is good. An important aspect of the primitive accumulation argument is that it is not just about grabbing land, but also about forcing the residents of that land into the labor market. There’s no question that this is true of the way various large-scale plantations are being developed. However, this leads to another question about the arguments in these articles and blog posts: to what extent are these “real” concessions that will lead to the creation of real plantations producing real rubber, etc., employing real people, generating real profits for real companies, etc., and to what extent is all of this concession-granting part of the speculative creation of value, and linked to ulterior motives?

  4. jspot says:

    Excellent points raised here. In many ways Cambodia resembles a proto-state with nascent forms of capital in the process of primitive accumulation. The resemblance to the enclosure movement are startling.

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