Cambodia, officially the Kingdom of Cambodia, borders Laos in the north, Thailand in the northwest and west, and Vietnam in the east and southeast with low mountain ranges. Within these ranges lies the fertile lowland heart of Cambodia. The 15.7 million Cambodian inhabitants are mainly Khmer (90%), but also Vietnamese (5%), Chinese (1%) and other ethnicities (4%). The majority of the population is Buddhist (97%), which is also the state religion.
Demographic figures in Cambodia are influenced strongly by the Cambodian civil war and the genocide. Around 51% of the population is younger than 24 years old. The Cambodian civil war took place shortly after the Vietnam war (1975) and continued until the 1990s. Estimates on how many people have died in these years are various, but thought to be between 1.5 million and 2.5 million due to executions, hunger and illness.
The civil war also continues to be noticed in contemporary Cambodian economy. Although the economy has shown strong economic growth over the last decade (since 2011, GDP grew at an annual rate of 7%), Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. Approximately 2.66 million people live of less than $1.20 per day. Small scale farmers, ethnic minorities and children are the most vulnerable in this context.
The majority (79.3%) of the Cambodian population lives in the rural areas. Cambodia is an agrarian country whose economy is largely depending on natural resources and agriculture. Around 49% of Cambodians is involved in agricultural activities. An activity that accounts for 32.1% of land use in Cambodia. The main crops are rice, rubber, corn, vegetables, cashew and cassava. Especially the lowland, and most densely populated part, of Cambodia is fertile because of the presence of the Mekong river and South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake Tonle Sap, which makes rice a perfect crop for the area. But the (long-term) economic development of Cambodia and its agricultural sector remain a big challenge, held back by poverty rates, poor infrastructure, demographic imbalance, limited education and productive skills, and limited access to markets.
Other challenges Cambodia faces are environmental sustainability, land and natural resources management and good governance. Over the last two decades, economic liberalization, export expansion and growing foreign investment have led to rising prices and an insatiable demand for land, forest and maritime areas. Leading to frequent clashes between the interests of local ethnic communities and companies. With large swathes of the country leased for commercial exploitation (large scale agribusiness ventures or real estate development) through economic land concessions, insecurity of tenure due to a widespread lack of formal land titles and weak rule of law have facilitated a wave of land grabs and forced evictions, sometimes accompanied by violence.