Welcome to the Rights-LINK Lao project

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Although more than two-thirds of the Lao population depends on agriculture, land laws, policy, and decision-making mechanisms are unclear to villagers and district officials alike and information about the process is inaccessible to the people who are most affected. Rights-LINK project aims to provide this lacking free access in order to prevent and resolve disputes around land that is one of the main contributors to poverty in Laos today.

INTRODUCTION

Overview:
Phase I of the Rights-Land, Information, Networking, and Knowledge project (Rights -LINK) Lao project is a 3-year project to be implemented between February 2009 and January 2012 by Village Focus International (VFI) under an MOU with the National Land Management Authority (NLMA) of the Government of the Lao PDR (GoL). The project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) with a budget for this phase of US$ 1,412,748.

Context: Land related conflicts are increasingly being seen as one of the main determinants to household security and poverty reduction efforts as more than two thirds of population (620,000 households) depend on agriculture for their livelihood; of these, about 75% still engage in subsistence farming and rely on a range of land resources (farmland, forestland, waterways, etc.) for their livelihoods.

At the local level there are few mechanisms for rural communities to meaningfully participate in how decisions are made about land and natural resources. Villagers have difficulties in relating to GoL and investors, and representing their own interests regarding deals and conditions for land development activities. Similarly they are often not familiar enough with laws and regulations, and their own land use rights, to be able to effectively negotiate with GoL and developers. Within the government, staff capacities need to be strengthened to deal with land rights issues. Administrative reforms and governance structures have not kept pace with the rapid changes and there is a need to build up capacity at all levels on how to deal with land related issues. In parallel to the administrative reforms, it is also crucial to ensure that farmers and communities have access to legal resources and effective conflict resolution mechanisms.

The issues/gaps to be addressed:
Based on the analytical work done during the project development phase, six issues have been identified. These six issues cut across levels of work (national, provincial-district and village level) and should be seen as the main areas that the project will tackle in the coming years.

* Issue 1: Increasing land use conflicts as a result of population pressure, government policy on relocation and increasing investments for agriculture development has had a negative impact on food security and poverty, unequal distribution of land and environmental degradation.

* Issue 2: Local government officials and village leaders lack capacity, resources, tools and methods to properly support and implement land management-related activities at the local level.

* Issue 3: Farmers and local government officials lack awareness and access to information on land and legal rights and responsibilities and often do not understand their rights and responsibilities.

* Issue 4: Processes to improve governance of land and natural resources at the local level that allow for greater participation are not well documented or tested.

* Issues 5: Coordination and harmonization among donors, government agencies and INGOs remains inadequate, which leads to overlapping agendas and initiatives and inefficient use of human and financial resources.

* Issue 6: There are few feedback mechanisms and two-way communication channels between local level implementation and policy and planning levels. How will Rights-LINK fill the gap? The main development hypothesis is that in order to improve governance of land and natural resources mechanisms need to be in place for individuals, communities and civil society to meaningfully contribute to policy reform and dialogue regarding land and natural resources. This includes providing information and knowledge to key stakeholders on land rights and responsibilities, providing better legal support and feedback channels to seek redress, and developing coordination mechanisms between and among different actors at all levels.

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