I just returned from my field trip to Kratie, Ratanak Kiri, and Steung Treng provinces, where our team made new contacts with grassroots organizations, talked to indigenous communities, and geotagged locations of undocumented rubber plantations. It was a very successful (and fun!) trip and the information we gained will be helpful to ODC’s efforts to maintain an updated database on agro-industry projects.
Our team left early Friday morning and, as soon as we left the outskirts of Phnom Penh, I quickly noticed that the countryside was dominated by either rice fields or rubber plantations. My Khmer colleagues on the trip, who had driven on the same road for several years, told me how much the surrounding environment has changed in just a small amount of time. Here are a few images on the road to Cambodia’s northeast.
We were surprised to see new rubber processing facilities during our trip because of the relatively high cost of electricity in Cambodia. According to figures from 2003, the cost to process rubber in Cambodia averaged around $97 USD/ton, compared to $70 USD/ton in Vietnam and $60 USD/ton in Indonesia. The high cost of electricity deters investment in national processing facilities and, as a result, contributes to the current situation where semi-finished products from Cambodian plantations must be exported to Vietnam for further processing. Our driver luckily spotted this processing plant and we made sure to take geo-tagged photos for further research into this new facility.
The next day, our team visited a number of villages to talk with the local communities and learn more about their interactions with nearby ELC development projects. For example at Tharang Svay village, which is mainly made up of indigenous farmers, the participants were initially hesitant to speak with us; however with some help from a local grassroots representative who translated our questions, we soon discovered what types of crops they planted, whether they had been contacted/contracted by ELCs, and if they had legal titles to their lands. Talking with communities such as these throughout our trip helped me better understand the interrelatedness between small-scale, family-owned plantations and ELC-backed projects in Cambodia’s rubber industry.
Another highlight of our trip was touring an actual rubber plantation. We were able to talk to some of the workers and learned more about the rubber tapping process. We also found out that workers can tap up to 400 trees in a day, making a few hundred dollars a month.
Raw latex collected from rubber trees
How rubber trees are tapped and their latex collected
We enjoyed our last day of our field trip in Kratie, a province famous for its river dolphins. After a quick trip on the Mekong River, we luckily caught a glimpse of these beautiful, yet endangered animals!