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Active debates transpire from first Regional Land Forum
The first Regional Land Forum has successfully debated customary land rights and large scale land concessions in the context of ASEAN Economic Integration. Held in Hanoi from 21-23 June 2016, the Regional Land Forum was the first international forum on land governance in the Mekong Region. There was a real sense of engagement during the event, thanks to quality presentations and a responsive and active audience.
As a jointly supported project by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), together with the support of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG) project was pleased to receive cooperation from the Economic Committee of the Communist Party and the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD), and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).
This forum provided an important place for sharing ideas and concerns, by discussing experiences with neighbouring countries and with colleagues from various sectors, including: government, academia, private sector, civil society (domestic and international), land experts from the region and, importantly, farming representatives.
The Regional Land Forum attracted over 300 participants. Those registered were from Cambodia (55), Laos (58), Myanmar (42), Vietnam (111), other ASEAN countries (18) including China and Thailand, and also from outside the region (10), including Australia, Italy, England, America, France and the Netherlands.
There was strong representation across most sectors: Government (43; representing nine Ministries), International Organisations (58), Development Partners, Projects, NGOs/INGOs/CSOs (81), academic institutions (81) including 27 students, nine participants from farming organisations and 16 participants from the private sector.
Three keynote speakers presented over the course of the three days and these included Professor Philip Hirsch (University of Sydney), Louisa Jansen (Land Tenure Unit, UNFAO) and Duncan Pruett of Oxfam. There were 39 parallel discussant presentations, five opportunities for training or discussion workshops including a student learning exchange, one plenary panel session with six guest speakers from different organisations in Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Thailand and Indonesia, a closed government exchange session and an open network event with an additional nine presentations by participants.
We (at MRLG) were very pleased with the high level of active participation by all our partners across the region, and especially the new, and sometimes revived, alliances that were clearly emerging through this forum. Participants were given the opportunity to take part in many land governance debates/discussions. There was a level of “respected openness” when discussing economic and agricultural investment policies and the social, environmental and economic impacts these policies were having (from a realised picture of grass roots issues to the policy sphere). Active government participation from the four countries was especially appreciated.
The following important conclusions arose from the debates:
- As recommended by the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, recognition of customary tenure in the Mekong region is defined as the legitimate rights of communities and indigenous minorities to access land and natural resources. Recognition of these customary rights by governments and investors is essential to guaranteeing livelihoods and food security for the rural population (which still represents the majority of the countries’ populations), to avoid widespread conflicts, and to promote sustainable development.
- Policies promoting large scale land acquisition to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) in agriculture and modernisation were implemented to promote growth and development through agricultural modernisation. However, countries that have experienced such policies have encountered many difficulties. This is due to a lack of recognition of the rights of local communities which has led to many conflicts and unsatisfactory performance by companies which could not respect their contractual obligations. The Lao PDR and Cambodian Governments have put moratoriums on investments and are in the process of re-evaluating the policies. In the case of Cambodia, the government has announced the redistribution of land to smallholders, and in Lao PDR, the moratorium will continue along with other forms of policy emphasis towards smallholder farmers. This probably means that other governments from the region should be very cautious before taking decisions on continuing or suspending the granting of large scale land concessions.
- Increased cooperation between governments, especially source governments of FDI and FDI recipients, is required to develop better FDI regulation in agriculture and to promote sustainable development. These improvements will benefit communities and smallholders, as well as investors, contributing to a more sustainable development model. Cooperation from the private sector and farmers organisations, research and civil society will be key to achieving these objectives.
There were many interesting discussions and topics that cannot all be summarised here. Suffice to say, they touched on issues of responsible investment, legal education, conflict resolution and mediation mechanisms. All presentations, abstracts and summaries are available on the following wiki space: http://mekongplatformlearning.wikispaces.com/Mekong+Regional+Land+Forum+21-23+June+2016
Interested parties can also follow us on #MekongLand, Facebook.com/mrlgproject, and Land Portal.
Following are links to media covering the event:
Viet Nam News, June 22nd 2016
Jakarta Post, 22nd June 2016
You Tube, Viet Nam TV news channel 16