Allocation or appropriation? How spatial and temporal fragmentation of land allocation policies facilitates land grabbing in Northern Laos | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

Resource information

Date of publication: 
December 2015
Resource Language: 
ISBN / Resource ID: 
MLRF:2147
Pages: 
i-iii, 1-20
Copyright details: 
BRICS Initiatives for Critical Agrarian Studies (BICAS), MOSAIC Research Project, Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI), RCSD Chiang Mai University, Transnational Institute

The Lao Land and Forest Allocation Policy (LFAP) was intended to provide clearer property rights for swidden farmers living in mountainous areas. These lands are legally defined as “State” forests but are under various forms of customary tenure. The policy involves demarcating village territorial boundaries, ecological zoning of lands within village territories, and finally allocating a limited number of individual land parcels to specific households for farming. In Pak Ou District, Luang Prabang Province, all stages of the LFAP had been completed in roadside ethnic Lao and Lue villages by 2006. However, in remote Khmu ethnic minority villages, while territorial boundaries had been demarcated, individual land parcels had not been formally allocated to specific households. Because the implementation of the LFAP was spatially and temporally fragmented, roadside villages where the policy had been completed lay adjacent to remote poorer Khmu villages where it was incomplete. This opened up new incentives and possibilities for grabbing remote lands within and between villages as well as by state officials. Roadside villagers suffering the effects of limited land resources resulting from the policy eagerly bought land or appropriated it in lieu of debt from poorer Khmu villages. Khmu villagers who had “privileged” (but not exclusive) rights to many land parcels began to use the discourse of “land allocation” and its ideas of exclusivity to justify denial of customary usufruct claims of others in their village, essentially “mentally” grabbing land from other Khmu villagers. Concurrently, district officials were misusing the LFAP as a way to appropriate Khmu village territory for Chinese rubber concessions and for elite entrepreneurs from the town. This paper examines how the fragmented implementation of land formalisation programs intended to protect local tenure security is implicated in opening up new possibilities and narratives for land grabbing at different scales, particularly in the context of increasing commercialization of land and agriculture. This paper is based on several periods of field research conducted between 2005 and 2012 which examined land grabbing and land tenure transition in the face of agricultural “modernisation” and transnational foreign investment in highland Laos.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 
McAllister, Karen
Publisher(s): 

The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague is part of the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR).

It is a graduate institute of policy-oriented critical social science, founded in 1952 and able to draw on sixty years of experience.

ISS is a highly diverse international community of scholars and students from the global south and the north, which brings together people, ideas and insights in a multi-disciplinary setting which nurtures, fosters and promotes critical thinking and conducts innovative research into fundamental social problems.

The Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) is a network of the research programme of Political Economy of Resources, Environment and Population (PER) of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Part of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

The aim of LDPI is for a broad framework encompassing the political economy, political ecology and political sociology of land deals.

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The Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) was established in 1998 at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Thailand in response to the need for integration of social science and natural science knowledge in order to gain a better understanding of sustainable development issues in upper mainland Southeast Asia. RCSD has, since that time, striven to become a truly regional center for sustainable development issues, linking graduate training and research to development policy and practice.

The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world. For more than 40 years, TNI has served as a unique nexus between social movements, engaged scholars and policy makers.

The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world.

Founded in 1974 as a network of ‘activist scholars’, TNI continues to be a unique nexus between social movements, engaged scholars and policy makers.

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