The Recognition of Customary Tenure in Lao PDR

This thematic study presents a country-level overview of customary tenure arrangements in Lao PDR. It examines the extent of customary tenure and land formalization in the country, key policy changes that have impacted on customary arrangements, the degree to which customary land is recognized legally and in practice, and explores opportunities for better recognition.

Customary tenure covers a wide range of land types and resources, and provides livelihood security for a majority of the Lao rural population, particularly ethnic minorities and women.

Forest and Land Allocation, village consolidation and market-oriented policies aimed at turning land into capital have undermined customary tenure systems and depicted small farmers as poor and unproductive, partly because the non-monetary value of their productive activities are not accounted for. Poverty reduction solutions focused on transforming subsistence rural farmers into market-oriented agribusiness producers and plantation labourers have resulted in multiple impacts on culture, livelihoods and customary practices.

An examination of the Lao legal framework shows there is some acceptance of customary land rights but legal provisions are generally weak, unclear and poorly implemented.

The final section of study presents key opportunities for strengthening the recognition of customary land. One important aspect of this is demonstrating that village-level land and forest tenure security and management is crucial for achieving Lao PDR’s development goals of enhancing livelihoods, reducing poverty, sustainable resource management and forest protection.

The study is based on a review of relevant literature and interviews held with representatives from government agencies, donors, civil society organizations and individuals with relevant expertize in Lao PDR.

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