Meet Chhek Sambo. She lives in a village not too far from Siem Reap, a burgeoning town of tourists who flock to the ancient Angkor temples. It’s a hip place to be, routinely noted as such on lists of the world’s top tourist cities. You can get a $2 hour-long foot massage, drink $2 happy hour cocktails and eat $1 tacos. On the other hand, you can drop $100 on a Siem Reap dinner any night—pick your cuisine, this city will have it.
But Sambo lives in a different universe down the road, where she and her neighbors are fighting to keep their land. All their lives, they have grown their own food. Farming is the only job they’ve known. It’s all they say they want to do. But a previous village chief sold their land, without their consent, to a wealthy buyer. Now, the villagers are fighting for land titles that would give them legal standing in this struggle.
It’s a story played out ’round the world, every day, by family farmers whose biggest aims are to feed themselves.
Sambo and her neighbors raise chickens, geese and cows. They grow plentiful mangoes…
that cling to their shady trees. It’s not an easy life, but it’s a life they say makes them happy. Still, they hunger. Some days, dinner is nothing more than rice with chile paste…
This fight to keep their land exacerbates their troubles.
It’s popular these days to talk about feeding the world, and a future population of 9 billion people. Ask Sambo what she needs to secure her future, her food, and she is clear: It must start with land.
She is not alone. You can read more about this issue in my story for Slate.