Vientiane Times 24th February 2016
Experts are seeking to design innovative solutions to land-related challenges in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam by discussing the experiences of the four Mekong countries. More than 80 people representing over 30 organisations from six countries in South East Asia are taking part in a regional stakeholders’ consultation workshop in Vientiane from February 23-24. The meeting is considering coordinated responses and priority areas for joint collaboration on issues of land governance.
The consultation particularly focuses on areas to support information necessary for policy making and improving practices that would ensure family farmers have secure access and control over land, and nature resource tenure. Speaking at the Mekong Region Land Governance Project (MRLG) meeting as co-chair, National Economic Research Institute Director General Dr Leeber Leebuapao reminded participants about Laos’ open policy on investment. This especially concerns agriculture with long-term concessions of large parcels of land for rubber and banana plantations, and in the form of contract farming. He noted the challenges caused by many of the concession projects as they have both environmental and social impacts. Most of this land is used for agriculture but mining, hydropower projects, and the planned Laos-China railway would make agriculture critical, as these projects would affect farmers’ livelihoods.
“We have to think about how to move farmers to the industry and service sectors,” Dr Leeber said.
MRLG is co-funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is supported by GIZ with future contributions from the Luxembourg Government Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. SDC Deputy Country Director to Laos, Mr Martin Hasler, made mention of MRLG’s regional programme, which he said was designed to support engagement opportunities between organisations, to learn for experiences, and synthesise lessons from country level that are appropriate to sh are with regional partners and apply in various policy contexts. Speaking of the countries in Mekong region, he said they faced unique challenges, differently enabling economic and political environments, as well as opportunities. He said the opportunities for Laos existed here in the country through improved dialogue and awareness raising on the principles of responsible agricultural investment. Mr Hasler said new opportunities are emerging in Myanmar since the approval of a progressive National Land Use policy that is creating socially and environmentally self-possibility for the poor, particularly for ethnic communities.
In Cambodia, along with a number of partners, the project is working with the Ministry of Environment to find opportunities for re-allocating cancelled economic land concessions, concessions where agreement conditions have not been met, to be returned to original owners and local communities that can have an immediate benefit to their livelihoods. The project is addressing similar issues with partners in Vietnam to help State Forest allocated areas be returned to local communities, also assisting these communities with sustainable forest management planning capacity.