Lao remains an agrarian society—more than two-thirds of the population depends on agriculture, with three-quarters of all farmers engaged in subsistence farming—which puts access to land and natural resources as a main determinant in the food security and livelihood status for most of the people of Laos. Yet, at the local level there are few mechanisms for rural communities to meaningfully participate in how decisions are made about land and natural resources, and even fewer at the national level to connect local-level stakeholders with national policy-making activities.
Laws, policy, and decision-making mechanisms are unclear to villagers and district officials alike; decisions are taken in an opaque manner and the process is inaccessible to the people who are most affected; roles and mandates of various governing units are conflicting and overlapping; and outside investors (whether Lao or foreign) often have more influence over decisions than local farmers. In fact, the approach to governing Land in Laos has tended toward encouraging outside investment to ‘turn land into capital’, thereby brining in needed investment to improve the production value from natural resources. It is estimated that land concessions total 5,000,000 Ha (21% of Laos’ land area).
Experience and Opportunities
Rights-LINK I, the first phase of the project funded by SDC “Swiss Agency for Development”, showed a way to create an alternative trajectory: educate and empower rights holders, reinforce weak mechanisms for accountability and support bureaucrats providing good governance, connect local actors with national leaders and decision-makers, improve policy-makers’ access to information about the impacts of land-decisions, and support the development of local mechanisms to resolve disputes in a timely and helpful manner.
Rights-LINK II will pick up where the first phase completed: building on the team and partners, expanding and deepening work within communities, and supporting access to information. Yet there remains substantial work to respond to a changing environment and improved understanding. VFI has identified the following five issues which form the core of problems the project will address: 1) lack of transparency; 2) uncontrolled expansion of concessions, 3) low institutional capacity (both government and civil-society, 4) lack of coordination, 5) lack of best practice examples for ‘green’ investments.
To improve stakeholders’ (government, civil society, private sector, local communities particularly women and ethnic groups) capacity, knowledge, and participation in decision-making on land-related issues so that rural communities can exercise their full land rights, including secure land tenure and the right to use their land in a sustainable and equitable manner.
Objectives and Components
The project is organized into three components, conceptually organizing the work into distinct but mutually-interdependent areas:
|To build partnerships and networks to scale-up and ensure access to information on land and natural resources management issues for a diversity of actors in order to improve informed and transparent decision-making processes at all levels and scales.|
|To develop a range of effective mechanisms enabling communities to exercise their rights to access and manage land and natural resources and resolve conflicts over them.|
|To build a cadre of trainers and facilitators who can mediate and resolve conflicts over natural resource management of key actors at different levels (i.e. civil society, government officials, private sector, students/academics).|
Rights-LINK II aims to directly impact farmers and local community members (especially women and ethnic minorities) across Laos. These farmers and local community members are the core ‘rights- holders’, or people who have the right to participate in decision-making about land and resources, the right to access productive resources. This can be done by improving the processes for decision-making, improving the policies framing that process, and improving support available to rights holders through both government and non-government channels. Activities will directly support improvements in three provinces and the capital, working with rights-holders in specific villages and with duty-bearers in district and provincial offices.
Resources and Timing
The full budget for the project totals USD 2,800,000, with seventy-nine percent of this coming from SDC. The expenses will be split roughly equally among the four outcomes with ten percent remaining for management of the project.
The project will run from the middle of 2012, following directly from the first phase, to the middle of 2016. While continued support will be needed after this phase, sustainability of impact is ensured through partnership with multiple parties. Furthermore, outside funding multiplies the impact possible with the SDC funds.
To accomplish the overall goal of the project, RL-II, building on successes from RL-I and partnering with key government and civil-society actors, will work at the micro (village), mezzo (district and provincial), and macro (national) levels to improve common understanding, develop effective mechanisms for dialog and more participatory decision-making, and inform policy making at all levels. The impact of the project will be better opportunities for villagers to participate in important decisions, better policy-making related to land, better understanding among all parties of how to respect villagers’ land-related rights, and, ultimately, more sustainable, equitable use of land and natural resources across the country.
Approaches and Principles
The project will employ a rights-based approach, building awareness and understanding and then enabling actors to use this understanding to make better decisions on land use.Rights-LINK Project will be based on the following principles:
1) Lao ownership
in that the project is run and managed by local Lao staff and partners with a range of Lao organizations from civil society, private sector to the government. In addition, the project will make greater linkages and leverage experiences of relevant regional and international land initiatives.
2) Recognition that gender, ethnicity and local culture play an important role in land use.
The project will ensure that messages and interventions are specifically targeted to both genders and emphasize the importance of informing and working with women’s groups, as they are major stakeholders in land use practices.
3) Neutrality and trust
Rights-LINK will continue to work with all actors interested to support sustainable and equitable land rights and continue to foster dialogue amongst all actors. Rights-LINK has built a strong network and is seen as honest broker amongst a range of actors.
4) Open access to information
Rights-LINK will focus on making information widely available. During this Phase Rights-LINK will focus on creating its own materials but also documenting and spreading experiences from other projects.
Pluralism is a key principle given high diversity of landscapes, cultures, actors and situations within the Lao PDR. From a methodological standpoint, a range of tools, approaches and communication mechanisms will be used based on needs and appropriateness. In terms of partnerships, the project will work with a range of sectors and actors in society.
The project will encourage all sectors and actors to participate in the project as well as in designing interventions at the local level so that they are sustainable, locally owned and empower local people.