Land is Life – Transforming Cambodia’s Future

Almost 40 years ago, Dictator Pol Pot’s regime abolished private ownership, destroyed the land register, maps and all land ownership documents. After the tragic Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia’s history the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland together with other countries stepped up to support the development of a new and modern land administration system.

A sustainable approach for a better future

At the time that Germany (1995) and Finland (1997) started supporting the development of the Cambodian Land Administration system, it was obvious that the project virtually started from scratch. In early 1990s, 4.5 million registration applications were filed countrywide at the Cadastral Administration. The first system set up to manage the land registration process was complex, time consuming, costly and technically inaccurate. A more efficient and technologically modern system was needed to support the social stability, economic development and poverty reduction of then still very fragile post-conflict country. Already then FINNMAP was involved by providing technical assistance (TA).

Timeline of the development of land administration in Cambodia

Development of land administration in Cambodia

Preparations went through several stages, including pilot projects, establishing required laws, training and education which all lead to a multi-donor land management and administration project. Throughout all these phases special importance was given to include all parties involved. The aim was to not only have government and officials, but also land owners and average citizens know about the changes in land ownership.

Part of this public awareness component of the project was a Newsletter called “Land is Life” which included information about activities and ongoing results of the ongoing Land Administration project. It became obvious that the participation of the people was very important. After all, work was carried out with the people for the people and in a society like Cambodia establishing trust is important.

The development work done in Cambodia was so amazing that the Government of Finland recently highlighted this project as an example of how Finnish Development should be implemented in foreign countries.

Land is life – the movie

As an outsider it is hard to comprehend the impact this project had on Cambodia. Rauli Virtanen, well-known Finnish director, created an impressive documentary about the project which we are happy to share with you. This 50-minute documentary film summarizes the history of the land issues of post-conflict Cambodia, the achievements and results so far as well as the current and future challenges of the Cambodian land administration. Many challenges still remain and further technical assistance support is still needed in order to make the developed systems both technically and financially more effective, efficient and fully sustainable. Nevertheless, Cambodia’s future is brighter than ever before!