Hundreds of Ede families in Vietnam demonstrate to demand land from forestry company Radio Free Asia

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Hundreds of ethnic minority households from a community in south-central Vietnam’s Dak Lak province are struggling to reclaim their land from a forestry company after 40 years of hired labour.

Protests in Lang village in Ea Pok town of Cu Mgar district began last month when farmers demanded the return of about 40 hectares of farmland.

The demonstrations came to a head on May 18 when hundreds of people gathered in the countryside to protest the coffee company’s destruction of their crops.

Videos and photos of the protest were shared on social media and showed riot police clashing with protesters.

Demonstrations continued last week, with protesters holding up banners calling on the coffee company to give back the land. State media have not yet reported on the incident.

“We want the company to give back our ancestral land so people can have a business in the future,” a local resident told RFA on condition of anonymity. “People get [taxed] more and more but have less land, so people have to reclaim the land.”

According to RFA research, the village of Lang has about 250 households, all of them indigenous Ede peoples. The residents all live from agriculture.

“The company doesn’t give a dime”

Residents told RFA they have been cultivating the land for many generations, but after 1975 the local government took it and gave it to state-owned Eapok Coffee Farm to grow coffee trees. The company later changed its name to the Ea Pok Coffee Joint Stock Company.

The locals went from being landowners to being hired laborers on their own land. They say the company allowed them to cultivate the land from 1983 to now, but told them to produce 18 tons of coffee per hectare or pay up to 80% of each crop.

“People work hard but they don’t have enough food because they have to pay for the company’s performance. In many cases, they don’t even have enough yield to pay for it, so they’re in debt and have to pay it in the next harvest,” said a resident who was hired to grow coffee on 8,000 square meters of land.

Residents say the company allowed them to uproot coffee trees and plant other crops, including corn, in 2010, but did not support them by offering seedlings, fertilizers or pesticides. The company continued to impose production quotas or tax up to 80% of the crop.

“People have to pay themselves. The company doesn’t give a dime or a single pill when people are sick,” said another local resident who farms 10,000 square meters of land.

Troubled farmers decided to submit an application to the government in 2019 to reclaim their land and agricultural rights.

Locals say Ea Pok Coffee asked them to start growing durian trees this year. When they opposed the plan, on May 18 the company began destroying crops to prepare the land for durian cultivation.

When a Vietnamese reporter from the RFA called the Ea Pok Coffee Joint Stock Company for comments, they were told the press had to register with management and get their approval first.

When asked about the government’s stance on people’s demands, a local resident said: “We sent petitions to the city government and the provincial government, but received no response. Five households signed the first time, then many more households. The government is always on the side of the company instead of helping the people.”

RFA contacted Nguyen Thi Thu Hong, Chairwoman of Ea Pok Town People’s Committee, to inquire about the dispute between Lang villagers and the coffee company. She said she would not take phone interviews.

When asked if people would agree to keep the current form of contract farming if the Ea Pok Coffee Joint Stock Company cut taxes and increased support, locals said they would remain committed to reclamating the land.

Translated by Ngu Vu.

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