Alice Beban and Joanna Bourke Martignoni presented their work ‘Social Security in the Extractive State: Gender, Land Inheritance and Agrarian Change in Cambodia’, at the Seeds of Change Conference in Canberra.

The paper explores the way in which land scarcity and massive deforestation, driven by government policies promoting Economic Land Concessions along with the in-migration of people from lowland regions of the country, are having an impact upon family decision-making in relation to inheritance.

Land inheritance plays an important role in these upland rural communities both as a mechanism through which parents provide a secure livelihood for their adult children and as a form of social protection for parents in their old age. In certain indigenous communities in Cambodia, matrilineal inheritance has previously been the norm – with the family name as well as land being passed from mothers to daughters and the expectation being that the youngest daughter will provide care for her parents when they are no longer able to work.

Changing patterns of agricultural land use have created a more fluid situation within which parents often do not have enough land to provide for all of their children and opportunities for off farm labour are frequently restricted to those with the mobility, economic and educational capital to take advantage of them. At the same time as the Cambodian state is present in shaping land governance arrangements through its agricultural, forestry and trade policies, it is largely absent as a provider of social protection.

These themes come out very strongly in the qualitative interviews that were conducted by members of the DEMETER team in Cambodia in 2016 and 2017 and analysed by the authors in NVivo. Using a theoretical framework derived from the writings of feminist political economists Nancy Fraser and Silvia Federici, Beban and Bourke argue that the situation in Cambodia is illustrative of a ‘crisis of care’ through which neo-liberal capitalist accumulation weakens the mechanisms necessary for social reproduction, in the process heightening inequalities in rural communities built upon gender, ethnic, class and age hierarchies.