OVERVIEW: Cambodia is a largely agrarian country that emerged from a history of political strife and instability into a period of steady economic growth. However, the country started from such a low base that even after a decade of growth averaging 7% per annum, GDP is only $650. Cambodia is ranked 176th out of 213 countries in terms of purchasing-power parity. Poverty rates have reduced somewhat, but they remain higher than in most countries in the region and are only slightly lower than in Laos. At the same time, inequality has increased in Cambodia, in part due to the growing concentration of productive assets, especially land. Inequality in landholdings is among the highest in the region. Furthermore, lack of transparency in many rural land transactions and extensive granting of concessions by the state for economic development have resulted in widespread disputes and conflict over land ownership and use. Unless there is a rapid increase in off-farm employment or other livelihood opportunities to absorb landless labor, the concentration of land in fewer hands will mean a growing gap in the opportunities available to different types of rural households. These factors could jeopardize the ability of Cambodia to continue its rapid economic and social progress. Improving land administration and enforcing established land laws will be critical to ensuring that Cambodia‘s progress benefits all its people. Cambodia‘s abundant water resources, forestland, and the prospect of large oil and gas reserves create additional opportunities for economic growth and development. The government has been creating large-scale programs to increase the amount of irrigated land to support increased agricultural production and plans to construct new dams to harness the hydropower potential in the country‘s rivers. The first production from the offshore oil and gas reserves is expected in 2012 and concessions granted or in negotiation for five additional blocks. The Prime Minister‘s denouncement of illegal logging and corruption within forestry offices in 2010 is a recent reflection of growing political will for enforcement of existing laws protecting the country‘s natural resources and the rights of local communities to land and forest products. The challenge will be ensuring that those rights and interests continue to be recognized in the years ahead.
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