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Project February 5, 2024

Conflicted Conservation for Cambodia’s Indigenous Peoples


Cambodia’s Indigenous communities have strong land security rights on paper, rooted in laws supporting collective forest management. But the government has granted few communities collective land ownership, and this entire legal framework to protect Indigenous forests remains under threat.

This project will investigate the impacts of microfinance and exclusionary conservation policies on Indigenous communities, revealing how conflicting development agendas, contradictory government policies, and hard-line NGO practices undermine efforts to attain Indigenous land ownership and community-led forest management.

Indigenous communities are experiencing debt crises fueled by World Bank-funded microfinance institutions. As a result, these communities are rejecting World Bank-supported communal land titles, designed to provide collective legal ownership over culturally significant forest and farm lands.

Many communities are opting for their members to receive private land titles instead, for use as collateral for risky microfinance loans, diminishing communities’ collective conservation capacity, spurring land loss and leaving community forests without legal protection.

Reporting will show how World Bank-funded microfinance has undercut a decades-long effort to secure Indigenous communal land ownership throughout northeastern Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, and Kratie provinces.

Indigenous communities have also been barred from obtaining legal ownership of their culturally significant forests due to land disputes with the government and NGO authorities controlling these conservation areas. Many Indigenous communities are excluded from accessing these landscapes due to strict government law enforcement criminalizing Indigenous customary land tenure.

Through multimedia, data visualization, and narrative reporting, this project will highlight the resulting impacts of deforestation, Indigenous displacement, and weakened community solidarity, while also sharing the grassroots Indigenous conservation efforts formed in the face of these challenges.