Vientiane Times, March 16, 2015
The government of Switzerland, represented by the Swiss Agency for Development (SDC), and the Lao government, represented by the Ministry of Planning and Investment, on Friday launched the Mekong Regional L and Governance Project in Laos. The project, which is planned for a period of eight years, will received financial support from the Swiss government amounting to US$8 million (65.2 billion kip), and from the German government through the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), amounting to 3.5 million euros (about US$3.7 million or 30 billion kip). Secretary of State for the Swiss Confederation, Mr Manuel Sager, and Lao Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, Dr Kikeo Chanthaboury, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the launch of the project. The project is an initiative to support land tenure security for family farmers, especially women and ethnic groups, by assisting the emergence of more favourable policies and practices, according to a press release.
The Lao government has been granting large-scale and long-term economic land concessions of agricultural and forest land to international and domestic investors (mostly for industrial agriculture, logging, mining, and hydropower). This has resulted in a significant shrinking of the area available for family agriculture and community forestry, and reduced access to natural resources that used to contribute to food security. The situation for family farmers is sometimes made even more difficult by the loss of land tenure and use rights, environmental degradation, resettlement, and limited prospects of finding alternative employment.
“I believe the human relationship to land is such that people see land not only as the basis for their livelihoods. It is also essential for people’s social and cultural identity and even their sense of self-worth,” said Mr Sager, who is also SDC Director General. “If you take away the land from people you also take away a part of their dignity. So ultimately the good governance of land is a precondition for social harmony and political stability,” he added.
The Lao government is revising land policies and laws, and in recent years, moratoriums on new concessions have been declared in order to re-evaluate the benefits and risks of land concession policies, comparing it with other options of agriculture intensification.
“The Mekong Region Land Governance Project will assist family farmers in Laos, especially female farmers and those belonging to ethnic groups, to have secure and equitable access to and control over agricultural land, forest, and fisheries,” said Dr Kikeo. Through the project, the Swiss government will support the Lao government in its effort to develop appropriate land policies and practices, responding to national priorities in terms of reducing poverty, improving nutrition, increasing e conomic development, and supporting family farmers, as part of its commitment to implement the Seventh and Eighth Socio-economic Development Plans from 2011-2015 and 2016-2020, respectively. The project’s first phase of four years will receive a total budget of US$9.25 million (75.3 billion kip)