Vientiane Times, 31 July, 2013
Up to 4.5 million hectares of land or 19 percent of the country’s total area is earmarked to be set aside for agricultural production in order to secure food for the country’s population under a draft National Land Policy. The draft, still under development, was tabled at the fifth ordinary session of the National Assembly’s Seventh Legislature, which closed on Friday. The policy will be put out for public comment before being resubmitted to parliament for debate and eventual approval at a later date.
Under the policy 16.9 million hectares, or 70 percent of the country’s total area, would be preserved for forest cover through three categories, including protected areas. The remaining 2.28 million hectares of land nationwide would be allocated for development purposes, including residential and business properties, industrial sites, mining and hydropower projects and cultural and tourism sites.
NA members welcomed the draft and recommended the government take action to prevent areas set aside for agricultural production from being utilised for other purposes. The recommendation came after parliamentarians noted a number of agricultural plots including rice fields have been filled and converted into residential and commercial lots, most noticeably in suburban areas. With up to 80 percent of the total population engaged in the agricultural sector, a number of members emphasised the importance of preserving farming land.
NA Economic, Planning and Finance Committee Chairman, Dr Souvanpheng Bouphanouvong, said once the draft was approved, the specified allocated land area percentages would be an instrumental reference for government in developing a master plan on land use management. She said the protected forest areas and two million hectares earmarked specifically for rice production “must not be converted for other purposes”. However, Dr Souvanpheng said forest areas and agricultural plots had not been clearly identified, noting the many agricultural areas were located inside allocated forest areas.
To deal with the issue, NA members called on the government to carry out further surveys to clearly define the two types of land use for better land management. Where agricultural land needs to be converted for other purposes, members recommended relevant authorities find somewhere to offset the change, finding a suitable location to replace the converted farmland.
Dr Souvanpheng said once the policy is approved, other related policies including the Laws on Land and Forest will be amended in line with the new regulations.