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Selling Off the Farm One Truckload at a Time

Bob Wiltshire / Khmer Times Share:
A worker on Koh Oknha Tey, also known as Silk Island, uses a horse and cart to transport sand from the Mekong River for landfill. KT Photo: Bob Wiltshire

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The recent ban on dredging sand from the Mekong has resulted in some people resorting to more innovative measures to obtain landfill. On the island of Koh Oknha Tey, also known as Silk Island, people pay from 7,000 to 10,000 riels per cart-load for delivery of river sand by traditional Rotay-Ses, or horse and cart.

The little ponies can be seen in convoy each morning struggling up the banks of the river with their heavy loads. Even so, you can’t get much wet sand on a dray of this size, so it is a slow process to fill a building block in this way. 

A more popular method of land-filling is to buy small truckloads of red soil dug from other sections of the island and re-deposited where they are needed for building.

Selling Farm Land

Exacerbated by the sand mining ban, river sand and soil for landfill are in short supply and have become sought-after commodities. 

Local land owners looking for short-term cash are literally “selling off the farm” one truckload at a time, despite the practice leaving huge tracts of un-useable craters in their backyards.

For a four-cubic-meter truckload of dirt, the land owner receives six dollars, with the load retailing for twelve dollars, up 20 percent on last year’s prices.

Much of the land on the island submerges during the wet months and with the rainy season fast approaching, the window of opportunity to get soil or sand is diminishing, so the rush is on.

Paradoxically, this practice of selling arable land is at odds with the land boom and surge in real estate prices seen on Koh Oknha Tey recently. 

According to local residents, the price of riverside land, in particular, has more than doubled in the last year to around $100 per square meter. Selling the land cheaply in a piecemeal fashion seems unfathomable to many.

Lured by the promise of quick returns, however, local farmers and small landholders are bringing in excavators and trucks and going for the quick buck, pillaging mostly riverside land. Concern about the erosion of riverside land was one of the main reasons cited for the recent suspension of sand mining activities on the Mekong River, pending environmental assessments of mining areas. 

Some residents are hoping that the recent review of sand mining licenses by the government will be accompanied by sensible monitoring and controls to minimize unintended environmental impacts.

A sand barge transports dredged sand to a building site and pumps it out to fill the land, prior to the ban on sand mining in Phnom Penh waterways. KT Photo: Bob Wiltshire

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