Saturday, April 17, 2010

Australian investors' US$600mil Cambodian land deal

Australia’s former finance minister, Peter Costello, announced a USD600 million investment in Cambodia, for more than 100,000 hectares of land - a deal four times larger by value than any single agricultural investment in Cambodia. Costello is now the MD of BKK Partners Ltd, a corporate advisory firm based in Sydney. The reason for his client's investment? "Rising food prices in 2008 alerted investors to the returns they can make from buying or leasing tracts of land in poor countries that have plenty of water and fertile land."

Cambodians have called for transparency:

We would hope that this kind of investment from a society like Australia would be done in a proper manner," [MP] Son Chhay said. "I would very much like that this BKK company provides the contract to the public so I can have a copy of that."

Land in Cambodia is a complicated topic, not least because of the Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s, when private property was abolished and land documents destroyed. In recent years around 1.1 million land title documents have been awarded, but that is less than 10 percent of the total land parcels, says the World Bank, which was involved in the scheme.

Combine a lack of title with the fact that around 80 percent of the 14 million Cambodians live in rural areas, and around 40 percent of them live under the poverty line, and the rising landlessness problem has many worried about social instability.

Read full story on IPS News.

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