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Hungry Farmers Are Losing Land

©2014/Jerry Redfern

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.

©2014/Jerry Redfern

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.

3 replies on “Hungry Farmers Are Losing Land”

A heart breaking story. It’s a good thing that you’re able to give a voice to their problems. I hope you’re able to return at some point and provide a positive update.

I am a friend of Jerry’s mom and also named Karen. I just finished your latest book for our AAUW book club. Now at your blog. My husband and I have been to many places you and Jerry have haunted but in no way to the degree you have. I hate camping, let alone sleeping in a mud hut. Also my husband was in high tech marketing and needed to make a living to support our travels. At any rate, what comes to mind is the frightening birth rates in the worlds where you travel. Of course, people are starving. There is only so much land. Is anything of any consequence being done? It makes me so sad. I suspect we will not be fortunate enough to have you and Jerry at our meeting Nov 3 but that would be terrific so we could all talk to you two in person. I was surprised to see you mention chicken in Baku, a city we dined in around Easter this year. Oh, the bread. What are you up to in Albuquerque in the next few weeks as we may show up there to visit a daughter?

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