Written by Mekong Institute
Along with other GMS countries Lao PDR has adopted land and forest policies aimed at reducing poverty. In 1996, the Government of Lao PDR (GoL) officially adopted a nationwide program on land use planning and land allocation (LUP/LA). The aim of the program was to provide villagers with access to additional land resources as well as at safeguarding the nations forest areas. The LUP/LA program has now been drastically decreased due to budget constraints after having been implemented to varying degrees in most parts of the country. Implementation of LUP/LA varied throughout the country, but studies on the impacts have shown that several of the expected results have not been achieved. It is reported that in general, LUP/LA has been beneficial in the delineation of village boundaries and resource use zones, has helped to reduce land conflicts and improve forest protection. On the other hand, land allocation has led to a reduction in agricultural and forest areas available for use by households living in upland areas. In many cases this has resulted in decreased yields and insecure livelihoods.
“Reassessment of the land-forest allocation programme is needed, particularly as it is applied to upland areas where shifting cultivation is widespread; there are shorter fallow periods and population pressures because of declining yields and the hardship experienced in some upland areas.” (Lao PDR NGPES).
This study confirmed most of the impacts identified in previous surveys.
The GoL’s strategy for the development of remote areas has been to push for “economic integration.”This has translated into a policy of swidden agriculture eradication, which is commonly understood to be an important way to develop the uplands. Following the GoL line, swidden is focused on producing a diversity of crops for subsistence which keeps ethnic minorities poor, especially where fallow cycles have been reduced. Thus, the villagers have to be taught how to farm like lowland Lao farmers – to focus on a narrow range of crops in order to produce a surplus which will generate cash, increase market linkages and decrease poverty. Recognizing that many upland areas are unsuitable for paddy cultivation, and given the remoteness of so many upland minority villages, thousands of villages have been resettled – often with disastrous consequences due to the lack of support during the actual move, lack of basic infrastructure in the new villages and difficulties faced by the communities in adapting to new environments, diseases and agricultural practices. Its not surprising, then that the figures from many studies conducted in Laos show an increase in all poverty indicators, including decreased food production and increased mortality rates in new villages.
In recent years, Laos has experienced an increase in demand for its main national resource, the countrys land. Huge areas of land have been conceded to foreign investors, mainly to Chinese and Vietnamese rubber plantations. These land concessions have put further pressure on upland minorities by increasing land scarcity and reducing forest areas which are vital to these minorities livelihoods. Furthermore, there lands
has often been conceded to the foreign investors – sometimes without any or with too little compensation – leaving villagers as day laborers on their own land with no alternatives means of livelihood.
This study seeks to contribute to a better understanding of how institutional arrangements governing ethnic minorities rights to access and control over land and forest areas impacts on their livelihoods, based on a field study in 5 ethnic minority villages in the Sekong province.
Keywords: Land Policy, Land Rights, Land Concessions, Land Titles, Lao PDR