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A voice for the voiceless: Landless villagers in Cambodia now own the land they work


A man infront of a desk under a tree. © ACDI-CIDA
Krous Village mayor Meas Hong oversees the work of the land registration team from Cambodia's Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction
Farm families in Cambodia have lived for years under the system imposed by the Khmer Rouge, who abolished all property rights. With help from Canada and other donor countries, the farmers are now gaining legal title to the plots they have worked for generations.

For the poor, having title to the land they work means greater security and prosperity. Property ownership gives them a stronger voice in decision making and a responsibility to engage more in the community.

Their crisp new title deeds are the result of an investment by CIDA in the Government of Cambodia's Land Administration Program. As of April 2011, more than 1. 6 million titles had been issued, with hundreds of thousands more in progress. "What we are doing now is nothing less than giving a voice to the voiceless," says project director Sar Sovann.

Three people and two land surveyors infront of some trees. © ACDI-CIDA
A land survey team (in hats) works on defining property boundaries on a family's plot.

Krous village in Kampong Chhnang province is home to over 3,000 residents, who are closely engaged in this initiative, according to village mayor Meas Hong. "People in the community are actively participating in the process to define the boundaries of their properties," he says. The work involves establishing and training decision-making committees in each province, conducting the technical land survey work, engaging the citizens of each community along the way, formal approval of the village surveys by the provincial governor, and delivery of individual land titles to each landowner.

Women are among the beneficiaries of the program, which gives them equal rights with their husbands to manage the land and transfer titles.

As one resident put it: "This is important for us. Not only will our rights to land be protected by law, but we hope our land titles will make it easier to get financial loans." A female resident adds: "I have equal legal rights with my husband to manage our land, and we can also leave a heritage to our children when we transfer the title to them."

This project contributes to CIDA's priority theme of stimulating sustainable economic growth. It will also help Cambodia achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and empowering women.

Germany, Finland and the World Bank are working together with CIDA and the Government of Cambodia on this project.