The research team set out to answer three research questions: 1) What are rubber investment’s key features with regard to the investment process, investor identity, location, activities and scale? 2) How was the “upland” landscape originally zoned and mapped as part of the LFA process, and later re-zoned and mapped by local authorities and foreign investors? 3) What are the impacts of rubber investment in upland areas on the land use and livelihoods of the villagers involved? In examining the zoning process, our objective is to put some specific details on a process that is often discussed in overly general terms: surveying. We show how three types of landscape classification – Land and Forest Allocation, investment project-specific surveying, and district-level zoning – have produced pictures of the upland landscape that differ by scale, spatial resolution (detail), category system, and legal status. We focus on surveying as a key transition point between provincial-level policy and individual projects because it is the process through which land categories that are used in policy debates (e.g., agricultural land) get put into practice. While Oudomxai lacks an industrial land use map, the incompleteness in zoning information is not due to an absence of mapping, but a difficulty in coordinating and integrating the mapping that has been done at different times. In turn, this has produced situations where, as elaborated in the Sino-Lao case study, investor surveys begin with little or no previously existing zoning information.
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The Mekong Land Research Forum seeks to bring research and policy a bit closer together. It does this in part by making the research more accessible and in part by helping to distill the key messages and points of debate so that information overload does not overwhelm policy makers and other advocates for progressive policy reform.