FAO & MRLG launch country-specific customary tenure policy briefs in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam

There has been an increasing demand on land and natural resources in recent years. Land and natural resources are getting scarcer due to several reasons including large-scale land concessions to national and foreign investors, environmental degradation, climate change, forestry exploitation, tourism, urbanization and population growth. Such issues are especially relevant in the Mekong Region, where indigenous people, ethnic minorities and other communities rely on their ancestral land and natural resources for their livelihoods without having, however, legal recognition of their customary rights. These communities have a deep connection with their land, which is not only an economic asset – but also a central element for their identity, cultural and spiritual practices. Secure land tenure rights are also closely linked with the enjoyment of fundamental human rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living, health, food and housing – and vital for fulfilling the Agenda 2030 objectives. 

Nevertheless, due to the current competition over land and natural resources, communities are losing their land. Land conflicts have been on the rise, and consequently, this situation has been creating challenges for the development of responsible land investment that could boost agricultural productivity and socio-economic development. The lack of recognition and safeguards of customary tenure rights, especially in the context of large-scale land investments, have been one of the most contentious and complicated land-related issues in recent times.
It is estimated that at least 70 percent of land in developing countries is unregistered. Quite frequently, land tracts under customary tenure systems are unregistered and not recognized or acknowledged by the State. In the absence of such recognition, communities’ legitimate tenure rights to areas are not recognized, surveyed and included in national cadastre and land registry systems (where available). Without this recording of tenure rights, there is room for uncertainty regarding the exact extent of a community’s area, or whether a given area is occupied or not. In this context, areas occupied by rural communities but considered “unoccupied land” by Governments, have been conceded to national and foreign companies for land-based investments. These issues have been the root of conflicts and violence in some parts of the region.

For years policy makers have debated how to deal with customary tenure, sometimes deemed as informal, indigenous, or traditional law. Improved understanding about challenges and opportunities related to the recognition of customary tenure systems is crucial to foster policy dialogue with Governments and relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, implementing principles and standards internationally recognized as good practices on the governance of tenure, as provided by the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), need to be scaled up. 

In this context, FAO and MRLG established a series of consultation meetings over more than a year, to gather multi-stakeholder perspectives about key issues for the recognition of customary tenure. The result of this interactive process is the launch of country specific policy briefs regarding Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam, which will serve as a basis for policy dialogue with Governments and key stakeholders, aiming to foster improvements in the recognition and legal protection of customary tenure systems. Enhancing tenure security for the rural poor will create an enabling environment for responsible investment in agriculture and rural development and thereby boost agricultural productivity and socio-economic development.

For publications of each country please click below:

Mekong CT policy briefs

Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, and Vietnam

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