Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Saravan limits land concessions for agriculture

Vientiane Times, January 9, 2012

Saravan province has agreed to allow domestic and foreign investors to set up projects under the ‘two plus three’ system, which does not involve land concessions and is of direct benefit to farmers. Under this system, the investor provides funding, materials and technical support to farmers, who provide the land and labour required, provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department Deputy Director Mr Thongdy Chanthavong explained recently.

Land concessions for rubber plantations in the province have been granted on more than 19,000 hectares, of which 5,800 hectares have already been planted. However, only 245 hectares are being worked on the two plus three system. Most investors in this sector are Vietnamese companies, according to a department report. Saravan has thousands of hectares of land that are being farmed commercially. Most of the plantations involve land concessions but some are on the farmers’ own land, Mr Thongdy said.

The province also has three National Conservation Areas and some protected forests, so local officials must be mindful of where and how much land it concedes to investors and where plantations are established, he added. “An important thing for us is that we don’t want to approve land concessions for rubber plantations as there are limited areas suitable for this type of tree,” he said. Recently, the government agreed to a Vietnam company conducting a feasibility study for rubber plantations and establishing a processing factory in Saravan province. But the project will be difficult to run successfully if the investors don’t work with the local people, Mr Thongdy said.

Provincial authorities are trying to promote the cultivation of commercial crops such as sweetcorn, sugarcane and cassava, so that farming families earn extra income, with a particular focus on the three poorest districts of Samuoy, Ta-oy and Toumlane. Lao, Vietnamese and Chinese investors all have contracts with the department for the expansion of these commercial crops under the two plus three system. According to the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, which conducted a study in these three districts, there are 42,000 hectares of agricultural land, of which 50 percent belongs to local people. Cassava and sweetcorn crops have been promoted in the past, with most farmers improving their livelihoods from sales of the crops.

Mr Thongdy said provincial farmers are already growing more than 3,000 hectares of sweetcorn, but only 100 hectares are grown on land concessions granted to overseas companies. However, some farmers have not yet received any payment after harvesting, he added. Every development project or land concession in the province and the country should benefit local communities, rather than allowing all the profits to flow to overseas investors, he cautioned.

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