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"New challenges surrounding land are facing the population" - Emma Johansson sets out on field trip to Cambodia

Farmer in Cambodia.

LUCSUS researcher Emma Johansson is currently in Cambodia to study linkages between land, water and food.

The field trip marks the start of a new post doctoral research project aiming to investigate changes in water use and food production linked to land grabbing. The post doctoral studies are funded by the Crafoord Foundation.  

What is the purpose of your trip?

I have about 10 months research funding to investigate the linkages between land, water, and food in Cambodia. For the initial field work, I will spend about two weeks in Phnom Penh to make contact with different people and organisations who work with issues around environmental justice, human rights, and sustainable development.

What do you hope to get out of your field trip?

The purpose of these meetings is to get more knowledge about the land grabbing situation in Cambodia, and sustainability challenges related to that. It is from there I want to start developing the research project. The plan is also to collect the best data available for modelling water use and food production. 

Hopefully, I will also manage to make a short field trip to one of the many ”economic land concessions” in the country. I’m planning to visit an wildlife sanctuary that has been completley transformed into rubber plantations.

What sustainability challenges are facing Cambodia today?

Cambodia is very interesting from a sustainability science perspective. It is one of the World’s least developed countries, with widespread poverty, pervasive corruption, lack of political freedoms, low human development, and a high rate of hunger. Many people have experienced and survived the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that slaughtered about a quarter of the population.

Now, new challenges are facing a large share of the population, as about 800 000 hectares of land, equal to 4.5% of Cambodia’s total land area, and 21% of arable land have been contracted to foreign and domestic investors since year 2000. Farmers are forcibly being evicted from their farmland to benefit foreign investors instead.

Most land is planted with non-edible crops like rubber, oil palm, and sugar cane, and much of the acquired land is overlapping with protected forests and nature reserves. The list of challenges is long. I hope to be able to collaborate with local human-rights organisations, and that my research can strengthen their mobilization and fight against a corrupt and unjust government, as well as the agribusinesses that are harmful for both people and the environment.

Why are you focusing on Cambodia?

I will collaborate with Stefan Olin, my colleague from the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosytem Science, who is already working with researchers in Bangkok and Phnom Penh. They are developing LPJ-GUESS, a dynamic environmental model, that we will use for mapping changes in land use, water use, and food production over the whole country. This initial invitation of collaboration made me curious to explore also other dimensions of socio-environmental change in the country.

Is the trip related to your earlier research?

Yes and no. The topic is similar, as it deals with socio-environmental effects in the context of land grabbing. But now the plan is to collaborate with modellers (from Lund, Phnom Penh, and Bangkok) and investigate changes in water use and food production over the whole country. In this way we can identify hotspots of water conflict and food insecurity, an idea that builds on my earlier research. Now I also wish to track where the products and embedded natural resources are exported, something I find very interesting.

About the Crafoord Foundation

The aim of the foundation is to "Promote scientific training and research without a view to making a profit for a given individual person or organisation.In addition, the foundation supports the care, upbringing and education of children and young people. The foundation may also promote charitable, social, artistic, sporting or other purposes of the public good, but only insofar as this does not contravene its main purpose specified above.”

To the Crafoord Foundation website