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

Govt needs time to put brakes on land concessions

Vientiane Times, June 1, 2012

The government plans to suspend land concessions but it will take some time to put this into effect, a senior official from the Ministry of Planning and Investment has said. “We have sent the draft of a prime ministerial decree on suspending land concessions to the cabinet for consideration and approval. We won’t be able to stop granting land concessions until the prime minister signs the decree,” Dr Kikeo Chanthabouly told Vientiane Times on Wednesday.

Dr Kikeo, who is Office Head at the Ministry of Planning and Investment, made the comment after the public asked the government to make it clear whether there is a genuine intention to stop granting land concessions. Some people have suggested the government merely wants to ease the pressure put on it by people who suffer as a result of land concessions being granted.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment announced in the middle of May that it had asked the government to suspend land concessions until the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had finished land surveys and land use planning assessments. This week, however, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment granting a land concession to Chinese investors for a cassava plantation in Savannakhet province, only days after the Ministry of Planning and Investment announced that concessions would end. Dr Kikeo said the Lao public must realise that the government has to approve land concessions for investors who carried out land studies and surveys some years ago.

Under agreements relating to planned projects, the government is legally bound to grant land concessions. He said the government wants to suspend large land concessions, especially for rubber and eucalyptus plantations, after learning that industrial tree farms could adversely affect local communities. Economists and environmentalists say the government should zone agricultural land to maximise land use benefits. Some land is more suitable for growing cash crops rather than rubber and eucalyptus. They also say the government should not allow rubber trees to be grown on the Bolaven Plateau in Champassak, Xekong and Attapeu provinces, as this land is better suited to coffee and other cash crop cultivation.

While people can harvest cash crops annually, they have to wait five to seven years to earn any income from industrial tree farms, so it is not reasonable for the government to approve land concessions for fertile land, they say. Environmentalists say rubber trees should not be grown near rivers as it will cause the rivers to dry up, which can have severe impacts on the livelihoods of local people. Without land zoning and demarcation, some foreign-run projects  encroach on the land of local people, leading to conflicts between the community and investors.

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