The Lao government has actively supported large-scale land acquisition through land leases and concessions, encouraging foreign direct and domestic investment in agriculture and other sectors (particularly mines and energy) for more than a decade. This policy has affected farmers in traditional communities, in particular in mountainous areas covered with forest. Some changes in policy occurred at the end of 2012 with a ban on new agro-forestry concessions, and more recently the revision of the investment law. Over the past several years, the government has repeatedly postponed the adoption of the National Land Policy (NLP), until recently, when the newly elected government decided to the NLP back on the legislative agenda. The NLP, eventually, will be transformed into a Party Resolution with the aim of making it more effective. There are various signals that the current government is trying to solve some of the most blatant problems of land issues, including impacts of hazardous and unsustainable agro-business investments, unfair business agreements between the state, private enterprise and communities, along with other hot issues, including indiscriminate forest logging and corruption in the public sector.

In this context, there are three major opportunities for policy engagement with government:

  • The discussion of the process of communal land registration, in particular as part of the systematic land titling proposed by GIZ within MONRE (LMDP Project)
  • Continued discussions around new regulations for investments in agriculture, in conjunction with MPI/DPI.
  • The drafting of land policy recommendations for the Party Resolution, to promote provisions on recognition of customary tenure, appropriate compensation mechanisms in case of expropriation, communal land titling, and, as a next step, the drafting of the new land law.

MRLG Strategy

The MRLG strategy is formed largely on results of regional and country level political stakeholders analysis workshops conducted in October 2015. During this time MRLG set its two priority themes for its activities for the 2016-2018, these being the recognition of Customary Tenure, and the regulation of large-scale land acquisition-responsible agro-investment.

In Laos, these themes have continued through two Learning & Alliance working groups with a continued focus on:

  • Communal land registration/titling in response to recognition of customary tenure and communal land titling in the draft policy and laws; and
  • Working towards community empowerment in the context of responsible investment in agribusiness in Lao PDR. Specifically, these L&A groups will develop synergies with two government-supported IF projects.

Through these L&A platforms and grant facility projects, the following initiatives will contribute to the key priority response areas:

  1. Recognition of customary tenure
    •  Advocating for Recognition of Customary Land Tenure and Communal Land Titling L&A group piloted by MRLG, MONRE and GIZ
      As part of this process:

      1. MRLG actively supports and is involved in the consultation process of the draft NLP and future land law drafting.
      2. MRLG is leading a focal group on communal land registration and titling and is also a core member of other focal groups of the LSSWG
      3. The NLGF works through LSSWG to coordinate consolidated comments and recommendation of the LSSWG to the NLP Reviewing Committee, and will similarly continue with these efforts when the policy is passed and the laws are next to be deliberated.
    •  Working with interested land sector civil society groups, projects and development partners to continue to review and provide commentary on the drafting of the land law. Where necessary, engaging legal support for specific actions to advocate for a comprehensive and smallholder-oriented land law.
    • A Quick Disbursement Fund (QDF) project to produce capitalisation of a communal land registration and titling case for advocacy.
    • An Innovation Fund (IF) project in collaboration with FAO is ongoing, implemented by the land network Village Focus International, and not-for-profit organizations working at village level with communities.
    • Developing and promoting a Communal Agricultural Land Management (CALM) model – an IF project piloted by MAF (DALaM) in collaboration with DOLA (MONRE).
  1. Monitoring and improving investment in large-scale agriculture and encouraging responsible investment in the private sector
    • L&A group working from a community perspective to learn engagement and empowerment techniques: – led by VFI working with MRLG, selected companies and MPI
    • A QDF project was completed in August 2016 to develop an initial platform for dialogue in the tea and eucalyptus sectors with the aim of building up experiences and lessons towards responsible investment practice of private companies.
    • A QDF project to support training of land advisers from the private sector and the development of communication resources that will be used to inform communities on Free Prior and Informed Consent who are about to be affected by large-scale investment project.
    • An IF project by the Investment Promotion Department of MPI to develop recommendations and guidelines for improving investments in agricultural crops, based on market analysis and community decision making.