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Project overview

Land governance in East Asia
Better food security through responsible and democratic land governance

East Asia

Celebrating Lao National Arbor Day and International Children’s Day, Green Earth Centre and Nonkham High School, Laongam District, Salavan Province, 1 June 2010 (© Rights-LINK)

Significant economic growth in Lao PDR has led to an increase in conflicts and competition over land, threatening food security, poverty reduction efforts and biodiversity. In 2009, SDC launched the Rights-LINK project to improve the management of land and natural resources in the country. The project’s aim is to ensure that legislation and decision-making processes concerning land and land use are informed and transparent.

Lao PDR is endowed with rich natural resources. Investors from inside and outside the country want access to land and titles to secure their investments. The Government of Lao PDR considers this situation critical but effective control mechanisms for land concessions are unlikely to take effect soon. Agribusiness firms continue to acquire land concessions at, what the environmental group TERRA calls, «inconceivably low rates».

The pressure on natural resources due to increased consumption also threatens the quality of biodiversity. In Lao PDR two-thirds of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Rural populations rely on the variety of plant and animal life, for instance, nontimber forest products, for food and as sources of income. The biodiversity of the environment is therefore a factor in the securing of livelihoods and in the reduction of poverty.

The land governance system in Lao PDR
The governance and the management of land and natural resources contain structural weaknesses at various levels. At the local level, there are few mechanisms for rural communities to participate meaningfully in how decisions are made about land and use of natural resources. Villagers cannot effectively represent their own interests regarding land deals and land development activities in their area. At government level, administrative processes and staff capacities need to be strengthened to keep pace with the rapid changes and the increased demand. At policy level, decisions are often made with insufficient information on local needs and realities.

Measures adapted to the local context
The approach of the SDC-funded Rights-LINK project to improve the governance of land is adapted to the local context. This means that local populations are educated about their rights and are able to exercise them. Government agencies fulfill their responsibilities, while weak accountability mechanisms are strengthened. The Rights-LINK project facilitates exchanges and dialogues by connecting local actors with national decision-makers, by improving policymakers’ access to information about the impacts of decisions concerning land, and by supporting the development of local dispute-resolution mechanisms. The project contributes to a number of positive developments: increased public attention to land issues, a more active role of the National Assembly in supervising investments and land concessions, and a government review of its land-related policies.

20’000 people now know their rights
In its first four years, the project has considerably increased access to information on land and natural-resource management and fostered network-building among various stakehold-ers. A Rights-LINK resource centre in Vientiane has been established with more than 4000 documents on land issues, many of them are available on the Rights-LINK-website. Thanks to knowledge and information sharing, training sessions and improved services, more than 20’000 people in 40 villages in Saravan Province have a better understanding of their rights related to land use. More than 8,150 people (including 3,645 women) participated in training, information and networking events. By providing support and materials on conflict resolution, the project has also equipped government agencies, civil society, and the private sector to develop a «paralegal approach» in advising communities and to apply conflict resolution methodologies.

The project in brief

Regional Cooperation
Land governance
  • Village Focus International
  • National Land Management Authority, Lao PDR
  • A range of civil society partners

Starting point/background information
Conflicts and competition over land have increased dramatically, negatively affecting food security and poverty reduction as well as leading to unequal distribution of land and environmental degradation.
Project goals
To improve the knowledge of and participation in decision-making on land-related issues of government, civil society, the private sector and local communities (particularly women and ethnic groups).
Target groups
Those land users in the project area whose livelihoods are most vulnerable from and degrading biodiversity.
Actors in key positions regarding the governance of land in Lao PDR
CHF 3’775’000

March 2008–July 2016

Additional Information and Documents